Through failure we learn--the same goes for our kids. It may be difficult to watch our children go through the painful heartbreak of failure, but shielding them from it may not bode well in the future. As one pyschologist points out to us, "When your kids feel the demand for perfection, they either feel unworthy when they make mistakes or fall short of your expectations, or it makes them incapable of owning up to their limitations as individuals."
Letting your child fail has never beeen an easy thing to do--even for parenting experts. Ciiru Kamau, a mom and a child and family psychologist, found this out when she picked up her son from his taekwondo practice. Told via her blog Carolyne’s Corner, Kamau sat beside a grandmother while waiting for her son, and they soon started chatting about a just-concluded competition. Kamau was “about to launch into a long discourse about how incredibly well” her son did when the grandmother said her own grandson didn’t do so well; in fact he had been disqualified in the first round.
Then, the grandma, who was talking in a calm and confident voice, said, “The next tournament is coming up next month, and I know he will give it his best shot.”
Kamau was amazed. “The one thing that I learned from that encounter was this--I want to teach my son about the beauty of FAILURE. I would like my son to experience as many opportunities as he needs to fail, in order for him to succeed.”
Following her realization, Kamau shared numerous ways on how she planned on making it happen with her son. 1. Don’t do their homework for them. “Let them go back to school with unfinished assignments, because you will not remind them to do their homework.” 2. Don’t clean the mess they made. “Let them (and you too!) live with the discomfort of a smelly room until they figure where that smell is coming from, and clean out the left-over pizza they ‘forgot.’”
3. Don’t do their projects for them. “Let them carry to school that weird looking project that took them the whole weekend to put together because, like my grandma friend says, it is not the end result, but the effort, that counts. And because next time they will try harder to make their project more perfect and learn great lessons in the process.” 4. Let them be kids. “Let them color outside the lines. Let them write the D with the ‘stomach’ facing up. You see, teachers have gone through specialized training to help the kids in a systematic way to learn how to write a D. And to color within the lines. Training which you haven’t been through. Let the teacher do their work, so you can in turn do your job as a parent.” 5. Let your kids fall off their bikes. “It is the only way they will learn!”
Kamau concluded: “Your job as a good parent is to walk with them. Not over failure. Not around failure. But through their failure.”
Kamau's story reminded us of a parenting style called “lighthouse parenting,” as coined by pediatrician Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in his book Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trust.
Lighthouse parenting is a balance between being a helicopter parent and being too lax and uncaring. It's about letting children explore on their own while still being supportive and attentive. And letting kids fail is a key aspect.
“A lighthouse parent understands that sometimes kids need to learn from failure,” Ginsburg told ABC News. “[Lighthouse parenting] focuses on the relationship. Not having all the answers with them but problem solving with them as they face things.”
Children will experience their own trials and parents wouldn’t want to completely protect their children from these nor would they want them to go unguided. Instead, parents become "lighthouses"--a watchful eye and a beacon of light, giving advice, support and encouragement so that kids learn to overcome obstacles on their own. And, slowly but surely, they can become resilient and capable individuals.
As Kamau wrote, “In her wisdom, probably spanning over years of failures and victories, this beautiful grandma knew that her 7-year-old’s stint in taekwondo was just the start of many failures, and many victories that will prepare him for life. To her, this was a very small and necessary part of the journey of her grandson’s life.”