I was leading a workshop the other day and we got into a discussion about the importance of letting our kids fail. You might be saying to yourself: “What?!! Aren’t we supposed to be guiding them towards success?”. Yes, a big part of our job is to guide them towards success but all successful people have experienced failure; some much more than others. What made them successful is that they weren’t afraid to fail and if they did, they just learned from their mistakes and moved on. They didn’t allow themselves to be defeated by rejection, hurt or disappointment.
I often tell groups the story of my daughter’s Grade 8 year in High School when she refused to apply herself in Math. Her marks were poor and she didn’t seem to care. We offered to hire a tutor for her but she would have no part of it and my husband who is excellent in Math, promised to sit with her and help with all her homework assignments. She would have no part of that either. We had done our part in offering help so the rest was up to her. We decided that we were just going to have to let her fail. When looking at the big picture, I knew it would not have a big impact on her ability to meet all her requirements for graduation and at this stage she could easily catch up. When her marks came at the end of the school year, she did indeed fail Math and had to go to summer school in order to take Math 9 in the fall. Getting yourself to school for 9am every morning for a month during the summer when all your friends are still in bed is not fun. My daughter was determined to pass this time and decided to apply herself so she could be with her friends for Math 9 in the fall. We allowed her to experience the consequence of not trying and refusing help which turned out to be the best thing. Her marks from then on stayed well above average.
I asked my group: “How many of you have never been rejected or disappointed? ” Of course no one raised their hand. We’ve all experienced rejection, heart ache, disappointment and failure. It’s part of living. What’s important is that we know how to effectively handle the disappointments and rejections and not feel completely defeated by them. We can’t see ourselves as failures and then lose the motivation to keep going. If we don’t let our kids experience failure or disappointment, they don’t learn how to handle it when it eventually comes their way. Our kids need to hear things like: “I know it was tough, but you got through it” or “Kids can be mean sometimes but you really handled that well” or “Think of what you learned from making that mistake” or “I know you’ll get through this.”
We do our kids no justice by protecting them from hurt and disappointment. It’s hard to see them upset. No one likes it and it hurts us. We must though give them the tools to rise above their failures. It’s through adversity that we grow the most. There is no highly successful person on the planet who didn’t experience a lot of hurt and rejection before they got to where they are now. Avoiding any kind of pain and always playing it safe, prevents us from becoming the person we’re meant to be.