Even the possibility of failure is anxiety provoking.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could just do everything right the first time?
Need me to do that radio interview? No problem–bring it on! I’m not scared of that microphone, and the questions for which I might not know the answers, and the fact that I might sound like an idiot or give someone the wrong information… cue the heart racing, chest clutching, palm dampening anxiety.
If you haven’t experienced the fear of failure you haven’t pushed past your known limits and tried, and without trying you will leave possibilities on the table.
We want our children to catch their dreams, so when it is safe, and when failure does not have lifelong consequences, we need to let them try.
It is hard to sit back and watch our children fail–yet failure is good, and essential to success. Below are ten things to think about as you stand aside and watch your child drop that ball, and learn lessons the hard way–through personal experience with bruised knees and lost friendships:
Failure is on the job training–a learning experience in what does not work and what not to do. Fail that test? Next time they will study.
Failure is an arrogance tamer. Arrogance will not attract true friends.
Failure teaches empathy. Empathy does attract true friends.
Failure is proof that your child is trying. Good to know they got off that couch, right?
Failure gives us direction. If we are lost, we look at a map; failure draws the route on that map. If our child was terrible at hitting or catching a ball, but loved running the bases? Maybe we should sign him or her up for track. Failure gives us a better idea of who we are and what we are actually good at.
Projects are more likely to succeed if preceded by a series of failures. All those errors make us more careful, so we pay attention and catch mistakes before they happen instead of pushing through and assuming all will go well.
Life’s hardest, most important lessons can only be learned through failure. People truly do “not know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
Lessons learned through failure stick. We joke about how our children always have to learn things the hard way, but such is human nature. We can give them our knowledge and experience, but it will never be as memorable as a moment of abject embarrassment in front of their classmates.
Success feels so much better after failures. ‘Nuf said.
Experience teaches that failure is not fatal. John Sinclair said “failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” It’s good to have learned in childhood that you really can try again, and perhaps succeed. Failure is not permanent until you give up and shut that door.
It is better that they learn these lessons in childhood while you are still there to catch them when they fall. Break out your box of bandaids, security, and absolute love and acceptance. Even though they might not make the team, they know that you will love them anyway and they will be secure enough to try again.
Every single time your children fail, they have overcome fear to try, and how amazing is that? Even if they have not succeeded at acing that interview, they have succeeded at beating fear to give it their best. Their dreams await.
In the last several weeks I have seen a mother trying to make her daughter look prettier (she was beautiful without the make-up), a father pushing a son better built for track into football, and a parent making fun of a son’s drawings.
These parents might someday wonder why their children did not have the self-confidence to achieve more in life.
Let’s not do that.
So… top ten ways to nurture a confident child
The most important single factor in building a child’s self esteem is unconditional love from their parents. Children need to be certain that no matter what dumb thing they do, or how badly they fail, you will love them. You may not always like what they’ve done, but you will always have their back. They will have the courage to try, when they are sure you will catch them if they fall.
Give your child a chance at success by laying out clear expectations; they need to know what success is in order to achieve it. Nothing will destroy self-confidence more quickly than trying to shoot at a moving target. What do you hope to see in your child: honesty? hard work? creativity? Be consistent. If you want them to be honest, then you need to be stringently honest in your own life, and require it of them in every part of theirs. No telling your child not to lie, then suggesting a fib about their schoolwork! Expect hard work? Work alongside them, and let them know how much you appreciate their labor. Exhibit, and reward, the behavior you want to see.
Make your expectations something at which your individual child can succeed. Any child can give their best, work hard, be true to themselves, and be honest. Not every child can be a football star, brilliant musician, or great artist. If your expectation is that your child try new things and do his or her best, then they can succeed at putting paint on canvas, and they will feel pride in their accomplishment.
Find activities in which your child will thrive. You may have to try a few new things; break out the ballet classes and art lessons. Learn to throw a ball. Read books, tour a museum, travel… Explore the world in which your child will live his or her life. Nothing will build self-esteem like success, so seek out and encourage activities they love or for which they have a talent.
Be interested in what inspires them. It’s impossible not to be: you are interested in their hair color and their height, how could you not be interested in their minds and talents? In the end, if mom or dad is interested, they will know that their accomplishments – and they themselves – have value.
Allow time for free play and creative activity. Children do amazing things when they are allowed access to their own imaginations. Freedom will allow them to get in touch with their innate abilities, so that they can discover their best future. Self-confidence thrives when we do work at which we excel.
Examine your own mind. Any left over preconceptions that might injure your child? Your small human is new. He or she embodies a combination of mind, talent, and ability that has never existed before. If you think science is the most important subject, but gave birth to a poet, you need to make sure that small poet doesn’t get the idea that you would have been happier if he or she could grasp algebra.
Expect them to fail: the only people who do not fail are those who do not try. Show them with your own behavior that failure is a learning opportunity, so they will not think that they have less worth when they, in turn, fail. Let them watch you try new things. When you fail, make sure they see you accept that failure and learn from it, so that you can succeed next time. When they fail, tell them it was great that they tried, and redirect them to what they can do differently next time, so that they will get better. No defeatist talk, for the entire duration of their childhood!
Spend time with friends with like interests, and friends who are completely different. Friends who value the same things your child does will reinforce his or her worth; friends who are very different will teach your child that every person has equal grace, whether their talents lie in building an app, a home, or a business.
Be true and honest. Your children know you, and will know when you are not being real. Children do amazing things every day: there is no need for fake, meaningless praise. You love this child, therefore you love and will value the things that he or she is good at, even if you never thought you would before you became a parent. True praise builds healthy self-confidence.
While you’re at it, work on your own confidence. The world has probably battered it a bit. Children will always follow our example. If that example is self-confidence, courage, and honesty, how far might they go?