Nature is the greatest teacher and the season of fall has a life lesson for all, especially us parents. Just like trees shed their leaves in order to survive the harsh, testing winters, in the same manner when children fall short of their expectations, it’s only a temporary setback. Failure isn’t the end, but a chance to slow down, reflect and prepare, and like trees that regenerate once again in spring, when the conditions are favourable, children too shall bounce back and bloom to their full potential when the time is right.
As parents we often feel compelled to make our children successful. But we could do more service to them by eliminating not failure, but the fear of failure from our children’s lives.
After the birth of a child, parents themselves take baby steps into parenthood much like toddlers do – unsure and hesitant. Our first instinct as parents is to be protective of our child. We want to be there for them whenever they need us. But this is impossible in reality. We cannot cry their tears or bear their failures. And while children gradually outgrow the need to be constantly supervised, parents often find it difficult to set them free into the competitive world. But we must, and all that we can do to ease them into this ruthless world is make them resilient.
Instead of removing the obstacles from the child’s path so their journey is smooth and without hurdles, Jessica Lahey, the author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, warns in her book that over-protective parents make children incapable to cope with real life problems, failure being one. Children then feel utterly incompetent and unprepared for the real world and their confidence takes a beating. She suggests allowing children to overcome the challenge to make them more competent and gain resilience.
In the process, they might fall, but forgo the alacrity to rescue them. It’s important to understand that the very notion of failure is askew. Most people consider failure as humiliating. But failing is inevitable and the most human and grounding experience we all undergo sometime in our lifetime. The great sportsman Michael Jordan put this into perspective when he said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Children will fail when they try new things. If we or our behaviour discourage them from undertaking challenges that come with inherent risks of failing, we are doing a huge disservice to their emotional and psychological development by eliminating the exciting potential for growth and a chance to assess strengths and weaknesses and learn coping mechanisms. Children who are in the habit of succeeding always will find themselves ill-equipped and anxious when the inevitable happens.
It’s how we as their parents react to our children’s failing that makes or breaks the child’s confidence, not the event of failing. Our response can raise our child up or tear their fragile self-esteem to shreds. If our child senses they let us down by failing, they feel responsible for our pain and disappointment. In that case we’re putting a lot of burden on our child to keep us happy. Imagine how terrible we can make them feel when we sulk upon their setbacks. But if we share an instance when we failed too during our formative years, and how we coped, we make them realise it happens to everyone, and setbacks are a natural part of growing up, nothing to be ashamed off.
As children grow older and their decision making abilities are put to the test, they risk failing even more frequently, and need encouragement and reassurance to build their self-confidence. Whether your child is ready to be empowered to make their own decisions will depend entirely on your child’s judgement abilities and their childhood grooming. It’s best to begin when children are small, by allowing them to make decisions with minimal risk, like choosing an outfit to a party or who they want to befriend. Here, even if they falter, the consequences aren’t life altering and won’t compromise their safety.
With the drill done, when they get older they’re more proficient in decision making and less likely to fail. But adolescents who are prone to risky behaviour by default are at a stage when decisions could change the entire course of their life, need to know that wrong decisions could lead to undesirable consequences and that the onus lies with the decision-maker. Failing hits teens much harder, and they take longer to bounce back. Especially when it involves heartbreak and lifestyle choices. But research shows that when teens were made aware of the risks involved, they were more likely to make better choices.
Our wealth of knowledge gained from our own journey through life, makes us befit to be the best guide to our child, and our role as parents must pertain to being just that, ‘their guide’. And just like in fall when the trees keep the faith, and wait patiently for next spring to come, we too need to stand by our children in the fall of their life, encouraging and trusting for their time to arrive.