When Kids Fail

It will happen. How will you handle it?

It’s the last thing we think of when it comes to a brand new school year for our children.

But it’s something that will happen with all-too-sudden drama and upset sometime after all the excitement and the swirl of new friendships and teachers subsides: Our child will fall short.

In today’s culture in which far too many students get awards or ribbons just for showing up, failure has a weird taste. It’s almost nonexistent, or at least we act as if it is. The truth is that everyone fails at some point in time, and how they get up and face the world again will define them. As parents, teaching our kids how to deal with failure in whatever form it shows itself will help them learn an important life skill.

For moms and dads, it is very important to show that dealing with failure is a natural part of life.

“I remember running for class president in sixth grade,” Bobby T., a 26-year-old from Reading, Massachusetts, told LifeZette. “When the winner was announced, my number of votes was nowhere close to what it took to win. All I remember is wanting to get out of that auditorium — fast.”

Helping your child deal with disappointment is an important part of parenting, and one of the most complex. You are there for the highs, but are you there — in the right way — for the lows, too?

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It’s critical for parents to show that dealing with failure is a natural part of life. Acknowledge the feelings that come with it.

As parents, we love so much it hurts. So a first step to dealing with a child’s disappointment is accessing our own feelings.

“Many parents today try too hard to smooth away life’s rough edges in the hopes of keeping disappointment at bay,” author Allison Armstrong said in a Psychology Today article. “Children with no experience solving life’s little setbacks have a much harder time when they’re faced with the big ones.”

As parents, we love so much it hurts. So a first step to dealing with a child’s disappointment is accessing our own feelings.

“Kids’ setbacks may feel intensely personal to parents,” family and art therapist Erica Curtis said in a post for “A parent may be more disappointed — or may assume the child is more disappointed — than the child actually is.”

After clarifying our own feelings, what is the next step? Listening, Curtis said.

“The most important thing a parent can do is to listen actively,” she wrote. ”That means nodding, paraphrasing back what you’ve heard, and asking questions instead of offering solutions.”

How, specifically, do we do this, looking into the teary eyes of the kids we love?

“If your child reports, ‘I wanted our team to be called the ‘Crushers’ but the other guys didn’t listen,’ mirror his feelings by responding, ‘It sounds like you really wanted the team to choose the name you suggested.’ This shows you are listening and validates your child’s point of view,” Curtis said.

Also, remind your child that one door closing may open an exciting new door of opportunity. That’s what happened to Bobby T.

“I ended up playing soccer, and it became my obsession all through middle school and high school – and I ended up becoming defensive player of the year in my senior year,” he said of his early failure. “If I had won that sixth-grade presidency, who knows if I would have ever discovered soccer?”

The world is rife with tales like this. Our child’s story will come. We have to be prepared to help them navigate it.

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