Let Them Fail

Photo by Jerry Policoff

Someone has to have the kid that’s the best at something, and someone has to have the kid that’s the worst at something. It is a competitive world and we are pushing kids harder than ever before to succeed at absolutely everything.

Of course we want our kids to have ambition and get ahead in life.  We want them to have access to opportunities and the drive to pursue them.  We want them to have an excellent setup early in life to carry them through to adulthood.

But they are simply going to fail sometimes, and we need to let them do that.  They have unique gifts and weaknesses just like everybody else.

Youth Pastor Matt Roden of The People’s Church spoke to parents recently about being a safe place for our kids to land when they fail.  He said that the truest measure of a parent is in how they handle their child’s failures.  Successes are easy.  It’s easy to say “good job” when things are going well, but how do you handle it when they aren’t?

He spoke about meeting with a teenage girl and her parents in a counseling session.  The girl’s father was disgusted and upset that his daughter had begun having sex.  At the pastor’s suggestion to the father to try to be a safe place to land for her, he scoffed and said he was so upset that the last thing in the world he wanted to be was a safe place for his daughter….  Is it any wonder that she found another place to land in the first place?

I’ve made the mistake of really laying into my six-year-old son verbally when he wasn’t behaving at school.  Does he need to know what our and the school’s expectations are of him when he’s there? Absolutely.  Does he need to be made to feel like a criminal and a bad kid when he messes up?  No.  There were a few days when I met him at the school bus and he would look at the ground and drag his feet while walking into the yard, and I realized that he wasn’t overly excited to come home.  And I hated that.

That doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to do whatever he wants.  I just changed my approach.  Every day when he gets off the bus, I don’t grill him on whether or not he got in trouble, I just greet him and smile.  We go through his backpack and I look at his papers and I ask him what he did at recess and what he had for lunch, we talk about little stuff.  We still talk about bad behavior if it occurred, but not until after he’s been home for a while.  When I started doing this, he began doing much better because I think it took a lot of the pressure off.  Before that we took away toys and privileges and did early bed times, but we were having to do that several days in a row, and that just seemed to make him feel sad, like a prisoner.  I’m all about tough love, but I  don’t want to be the long-term reason my kid is sad.

I made sure to stress to him that we love him no matter what, regardless of what happens and it seemed to really be a relief to him.  I relaxed a lot about it too, he’s in first grade for pete’s sake, and I think he’s just a typical active boy that wants to play.  The last thing in the world I want to do to a six-year-old is steal his passion for life and stuff him in a box and force him into a sheep mold.  I’m happy to work with the school, and we do our best to make sure he’s not disruptive, but I’m not going to browbeat him over it.  He is doing light years better because he knows he’s in a safe place.  A safe place for miserable failures.  And a safe place for amazing successes.

Safe, but certainly not too comfortable.  Rest assured he will not be living in my basement when he’s 40!

So the next time they do a less than stellar job at whatever it is that they are trying, give them some slack.  There are a lot of things I’m not good at, but as long as I give something an honesty try, I just acknowledge it and move on to something else.  They are going to be amazing at the next thing that comes along, and the praise then is so much sweeter when they have permission to be bad at something.  And more importantly, they will know that you are in their corner regardless of the outcome. Let them fail.

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