“We want every child to be free of the fear of failure,” was a statement made to me. This particular school system was pursuing a new way of evaluating the educational progress of their students. No grades, no labels, just an educational experience that each child can feel good about.
The obvious question that must be answered is, “Is failure bad?” Is there something that can be learned from the experience of failure? Will life after school not include failures?
It reminds me of the parent that said their family never played games because their children couldn’t stand to lose.
Let’s start with the realization that parents cannot offer a child a life that is free from failure. Nor can a child find freedom from failure in the adult world. A life of constant success is not reality. It is the parent’s job to train up a child to become a fully functioning adult who deals with life’s inevitable failures. This is a part of the training process.
What are we afraid of?
Then why are we so fearful of failure? Why do some children refuse to try new things? Is it because there is a fear of failing? Or, maybe it’s not failure that they fear, but the withdrawal of a parent’s love. In this world of performance, many children have grown feeling they are “worthy” only when they perform well.
We are such a performance driven society. “Winners” get a lot of attention, but those who fail do not. Parents tend to show up and cheer for the successful performer. Have we raised a generation that only gets attention when they perform? Some children naturally excel, while others have to work harder. The work part includes failure. The experience we call failure builds tenacity and develops life skills. The greatest accomplishments in life include moments or even seasons of failure.
A biblical example
Failure plays a strategic part in a child’s healthy development. A child who has had the privilege of being helped to walk through failure has learned many valuable life skills.
When he/she fails at a project, it is a great moment for a parent to help the child think through the process. Learning to overcome various failures also builds personal strength of character. Moses failed when he first asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. In fact, he failed several times! But, he kept returning. One failure did not cause him to say, “That’s it! I tried! I gave it my best shot! I’m out of here!”
Today, far too many marriages have been handled with the “one failure and I’m gone” approach. Learning to keep trying also helps a person learn to keep trusting. It wasn’t Moses’ job to get Pharaoh to say, “Yes” anymore then it is a spouse’s job to change their partner. The outcomes are God’s job, but showing up and making the effort is our job. Trusting God means we need to learn to try no matter what the outcome, and when we fail, then get up and try again. What ever happened to the adage “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again?”
To shield our children from failure is to rob them of one of life’s most important lessons. God can be trusted no matter how long the task or how difficult the journey. Failure is only momentary and often it has a great purpose. If all things really do work together for good (Romans 8:28) then that includes successes as well as failures.
One of the greatest challenges as parents could be our failure to help our children learn from their failures. Children will grow up and run from greatness because they will be afraid of potential outcomes that could include failure.
Great men who failed
Many years ago a man retired and received his first Social Security check. Realizing that this amount of money was not what he needed to live on, he developed a plan to supplement his income. He had a family recipe that he thought a restaurant might be interested in using. This man got in his station wagon and visited over one-thousand restaurants. He got turned down at each stop. Each visit was a failure. Refusing to give in to the thought of failure, this man decided to open his own restaurant and serve this one dish. The man: Colonel Harland Sanders. The restaurant: Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Colonel Sanders joined the ranks of overcomers such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln – men who learned from failure. Men who learned to never give up or shy away from projects that had a potential for failure.
Our children do not need to be protected from failures; they need to develop strength of character in the midst of their failures. Then they will learn the wisdom of Romans 8:28…that all things really do work together for good for those of us who love God and are called according to His purposes. Because we have more free time, summer is a great opportunity for us to push our child to try new things. Learning to swim, ride a bike and those other summertime activities can be utilized to push through perceived failure for the great win of learning a new skill. But also the amazing opportunity to teach our child to “get back up and try again”. These life lessons are invaluable. Don’t miss the opportunity to teach them this summer!!
Visit parentingonpurpose.org for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts.