Keeping It Real

By Susan Hartley

April 10, 2014

By Holly McElwee

I’ve known a lot of kids in my 18 years of teaching, and I’ve witnessed those kids experience many ups and downs. A frequently experienced “down” is failure…how to accept it and how to deal with it. Unfortunately, too many of today’s kids have no idea how to manage failure in their lives. As parents, how can you help your kids navigate these treacherous waters? It’s not easy, but here are a few steps to try.

1. Don’t be a helicopter. The term, “helicopter parent” has become more common in the last decade. It describes a parent who constantly hovers over their children to prevent any misfortune from befalling them. While the aim of this behavior is noteworthy, the end result is not. Kids with helicopter parents never experience failure and therefore, they don’t learn how to pick themselves up and start walking again. As difficult as it may be, do not become a helicopter parent. Let your kids stumble and fall so they can learn from the experience. Closely related to helicopter parents are the…

2. Superhero parents. These parents rush in to save the day every time there is failure or trouble. This is also a recipe for disaster. Kids have to learn how to deal with disappointment, conflict, and failure. Give your child the opportunity to be a problem solver. Parental intervention should be the last resort, not the first. Your child will learn far more when they deal with issues on their own.

3. Teach kids how to accept failure. Let’s face it, the world is tough. Failure lurks around every corner, and we have to know how to accept it. Help kids to approach failure with courage and a plan for improvement. Bad test grade? Work on study strategies to be more prepared the next time. Didn’t make the sports team? Improve some skills to be ready for next year. The team didn’t win its game or competition? Congratulate the winners with a smile, and know that maybe the next game will be better. Whining, crying, and complaining don’t change anything. Action steps help kids strive to do better in the future.

An ideal scenario to help teach acceptance of failure is the family board game night. Typically, there’s only one winner in the game, and everyone else loses. Losing is a painful, but important, lesson that we all must master. Parents can model what it looks like to be a graceful loser and how to handle to the disappointment of failure.

4. It’s okay to be disappointed. Failure often brings disappointment, and it’s acceptable to feel that way. Instead of dwelling on the feelings that accompany disappointment, help kids to work through them by finding an outlet. Talking, writing, exercising, or even crying are coping strategies. Sometimes a good cry clears the senses, and it’s easier to move forward from there.

Failure WILL happen, and we all must be ready for it. If we, as parents, always shelter our kids from failure, then we’re doing them a great disservice. They will experience the fiascos of life, and they need to know how to manage it. Whether it’s coping strategies, forcing them to face their own problems head-on, or simply being a shoulder to cry on, the best things we can do as parents is to prepare them for life’s inevitable. It hurts to watch kids struggle through tough times, but as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This is true for adults and kids alike.

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