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Thursday
Mar052015

Let Your Children Fail

~For my beautiful friend, who's in the midst of figuring out how to motivate her teenagers...

I've written about this before.  The importance of letting our kids fail.

Fail at school assignments.  Fail at relationships.  Fail in sports.   Fail, fall down and hurt.  Get detentions, get their hearts broken, get left to ride the bench.

And not to try and fix it for them.  Smooth it all over.  And in doing so, telling them, that in failing - they've failed. 

But rather to emphasize the lessons learned.  The things they've come to grasp, and would do differently next time. Because really what is life but one big experiment at trying, failing, learning and trying again. 

Whether in how we live out our faith, how we behave within relationships, or learning from day to day errors -whether in school, work or life in general.

So why should failing be considered a bad thing

Something to be avoided at all costs?  Something we gloss over to avoid feeling the shame of having failed?  And why on earth would we try to prevent our children from failing?  From learning the hard learned lessons we ourselves have gained through failure?  Isn't that the reason we learned them so well?  Because we failed.  Got bloodied and decided we'd never let that happen again.

So don't deny your children the same privilege.

Let them fail! 

And then, let them reap the consequences.  Learn the lessons.  Make the changes - of their own volition.  Or if they choose to do the same thing again - let them fail again!  Eventually they'll stop banging their head against the same wall.

Let them fail while they still have life's training wheels on. 

Let them fail in elementary school, when the ramifications are almost non-existant.  Let them date while they're still in school, (responsibly and with rules and parameters), when the stakes are still so low.  Let them learn that without actually practicing they won't make the rep team, or that maybe they're not cut out for that sport at all, freeing them up to try something else.  Let them learn that success comes with a price.  And that price is usually trying, failing, learning and trying again.   

And don't feel that their failure is necessarily yours.  Let them reap the of consequences for their actions or inactions.  Let them bear the weight of personal responsibility and the pride in hard won accomplishment when they succeed.

Give them the gift of failure.  And with it the opportunity to try.  Let them learn that although they might not be the math king or the team's allstar, that there is still pride in trying, in striving, in doing their best.  Eventually, happening upon that one thing they're great at!  The thing that they love!  The thing they'll do without being nagged.  The hobby, sport or subject they'll take pleasure in because they have a knack for it.

In a time when parents are throwing around words like "entitled," "unambitious," and are waxing poetic about how different things were when we were kids.   Maybe we should back up a little and ask ourselves what the difference is between our childhood and that of our own kids. 

When I was little I rode my bike to softball practice, I got there on time, without being told or reminded to do so.  If I was late my coach made me run laps.  During the early years when the ball never left the infield I was repeatedly placed in left field where my coach could be sure I'd never have the opportunity to even touch the ball.  And I was aware of this!  But there was no parental intervention.  No one lobbied to ensure that I was given equal time in the infield.  I knew I wasn't the best player on the team.  But I still enjoyed myself!  I learned the lessons that teamwork teaches, valuable lessons.  Lessons in humility, cooperation, and functioning as a whole rather than for individual glory.  Then when I hit my growth spurt, a full year and a half before the other girls - overnight I became a super star!  Hitting home runs, catching fly balls too high for the other girls to reach, rounding bases on my newly lengthened legs faster than everyone else.  I enjoyed it because it was real.  No one pushed for me to get my fair share of glory before I had earned it.  I had ridden the bench and stood in the outfield, twirling and picking buttercups, for years before hand.  And I had loved those years.  They were childhood.  Carefree, pressure free, I wasn't the best, but I was still allowed to play, still made to feel that I was part of the team.  And in being part of that team part, I was part of the personal politics and hierarchies that are part of any group, and are as much or more of what childhood team sports teach us, than the actual sport.  Did I fail during those early years?  Kinda of.  I failed at catching fly balls, fielding grounders or even paying attention to the happenings on the infield most of the time.  But I was allowed time.  I was allowed to participate without being shamed.  There were consequences for my lack of ability and motivation, I wasn't falsely puffed up, I knew I sucked, I knew I had been given the worst position on the field.  But I didn't particularly care.  I was there for the chitter chatter on the bench anyway.  And when I finally did get good, it meant something.

As I've gotten older, and the pressure to be great at things has lessened.  I truly enjoy trying new things.  Because at 46 no one expects me to be a Olympic quality athlete -  I'm free to exercise for my own personal pleasure and accomplishment.  I now learn things because they interest me.  There aren't any tests with gold stars or the possibility of classroom accolades, and that's made the learning all the more meaningful.  When I was in school and constantly ranked against other students the focus was on success or failure, not the actual lesson.  And to be honest with you the pressure to "place" distracted me from the learning itself.  If I couldn't "succeed" why try?  So I often didn't.  Now that, that pressure is gone, I feel like I've become a much better student.  And having failed at many things I've tried, I would say I'm more empathetic of others who are struggling and yet carry on the fight.

Let your children fail.  Let them get humiliated every now and then.  Let them be left out or passed over.  Remain silent and let them experience life.  Or at least a micro version of it.  It will teach them more than winning, being praised or promoted under false pretenses ever could. 

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