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5 Worst Ways to Handle Your Child’s Failure

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“I know I’m biased, but I just think she is talented and deserves a better part this year. Honestly, she might not even participate.” I was directing a middle school musical and the mom on the phone was clearly upset with the results of the cast list I’d just posted. I’ve seen this kind of reaction over and over again from parents, and it isn’t helpful to anyone. But being a mom myself, I totally understand the feeling.

Even though failure is inevitable, it’s hard to take as a parent. But you get to choose how you respond to it—and some responses are healthier than others. Here are 5 responses to avoid when your children fail.

React immediately.

It’s natural to feel a surge of shock, anger, or disappointment when your children fail. But in reacting right away, you risk acting in “Amygdala Hijack” mode, meaning, we use our fighting words. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve wanted to unsend an email or unspeak some words that came out before I’d had a chance to cool off.

Take control of the situation.

When you are the parent and your child has failed, you naturally want to jump in and fix it! And there’s nothing wrong with being an advocate for a child who seems to have no voice in a situation. But be careful. It’s a fine line to walk. When parents cross that line from “helping” to “controlling,” they simply figure it out for their children and tell them what’s going to happen next. Instead of letting your fear and embarrassment run the show, consider encouraging your child to problem-solve.

Blame others and make excuses.

“It was an unfair audition.” “The teacher doesn’t like her.” Failure is normally viewed as “something went wrong,” so it’s natural to want to pinpoint what or who is to blame. If you look hard enough, you can always find an excuse. But when we simply accept failure, we give our children a chance to own it. We create an opportunity to grow, mature, and accept that life doesn’t always go our way.

Attack the child.

Attacking our kids when they fail is a sign we are struggling with control. “How could you…?” “Why didn’t you…?” I’ll be honest—I’ve pummeled my children with these questions. But I love this quote from motivational speaker Denis Waitley: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.” Failure is our undertaker when we come out of it with only shame and guilt. So when your children fail, instead of layering on the guilt, ask reflective questions and allow natural consequences to do their job.

Over-sympathize.

Sympathizing shows we care, but when we over-sympathize, we give the child permission to feel sorry for him or herself. It feeds the feeling of rejection and tempts her to wallow in the pit of despair. Instead, after offering a bit of sympathy and a listening ear, help her move to the learning side of the experience with questions like, “What can you do differently next time?”

What do you do when your children fail?

ASK YOUR CHILD...

How could failure be a good thing?

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