herald

Friday 21 November 2014

Children will never succeed if we don't let them fail in the challenges they'll face

THERE'S a scene in the new movie Parental Guidance that really struck a chord with me.

Billy Crystal is passionately cheering on his young grandson in a baseball match, encouraging him to win the game, when he's politely informed by other parents that neither team is actually going to be allowed to win or lose.

Billy is outraged. 'What's the point of that?' he splutters. 'We don't want any of the kids to feel bad about themselves,' is the reply.

I had a wry chuckle at this, as most of the other adults in the audience did, but the scene made me think.

As parents, we might believe that we're doing our children a favour by protecting them from ever feeling discouraged. We constantly strive to cosset them from how failure can cut like a knife.

But if we don't teach them how to deal with the difficult emotions attached to not always excelling at something, then how are they ever going to learn to cope with these sorts of situations in the future?

Are we failing to prepare our kids for adulthood by not allowing them to fail?

Author Paul Tough certainly thinks so. In his new book, How Children Succeed, he writes about the importance of failure as a key character building tool.

He says that if we don't allow our children to endure setbacks such as losing at childhood games and sports, they won't develop the characters that they will need to survive the rough and tumble of later life. He believes that it's damaging to engage in the sort of 'helicopter parenting' that has almost become the norm.

Guilty

Most parents are guilty of this, at least to some degree. We constantly hover around our children, making sure that they're as happy and as satisfied as possible. We live in fear of them not making the debating team or not being picked for the soccer squad. Is it any wonder we're like this though? We've been told for years that we need to constantly reassure our kids that they're doing wonderfully. But the truth is, no-one can do wonderfully 100pc of the time, it's just not reality.

If we engage in this 'self esteem at all cost' style of parenting, we're only delaying the inevitable crash.

Yes, we want our children to believe they can achieve anything, but it's also important that they be allowed to fall and then pick themselves back up again. They need to learn that this process is normal. Otherwise how will they know to persevere when the going gets tough?

And it will get tough; we can't protect them from that reality. Sooner or later, we're going to be forced to step aside and let them get on with it and if we haven't given them the tools that they need to survive in the big bad world then we're going to be the failures.

So, how can we raise happy children who are full of confidence and won't be defeated by the odd knockback? We must model these sorts of character strengths for them, demonstrating how we cope with failures in our own lives.

It's not enough to say 'it's OK to fail kids,' because, unfortunately for us, children know when we're faking it. They will know that words mean little when the truth is we're really terrified of failure ourselves.

Instead of talking the talk, we have to walk the walk, show how we overcome hurdles and teach by example. That's the only way.

Luckily, I have plenty of experience to impart on that score because I've failed more often than I care to admit.

But I also pride myself on getting back up and trying again. After all, as I always tell my own children, failing is only getting another chance to do it right.

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