Failure and loss are parts of life. As a child, these experiences can be devastating. Here are five tips to help your child overcome setbacks.
1.Failure is part of the process.
Competition, in all forms, brings up some of our prehistoric instincts of survival and tenacity. In high school, I competed in basketball and debate. I can still remember the rush of energy and excitement I felt preparing to compete. If I lost, that heightened adrenaline could make it feel like the world was ending. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, and everyone watching me fail saw the same thing.
It’s hard not to take failure personally. Even as adults. Our job as parents is to constantly remind our children of the bigger picture. In my case, it was to become a better basketball player and debater. My mother would remind me that every great athlete, artist, and entrepreneur failed many times on their path to success. With each failure, they learned something that contributed to what made them great.
2. Celebrate small victories.
My youngest son had a hard time learning to write. He would grow frustrated, drop his pencil and claim he was “too tired” to write any more words. We decided to work with an Occupational Therapist to get him ready for Kindergarten. She helped in many ways but one of the things we appreciated the most was how she celebrated his small achievements. For instance, although his ‘B’ may have still been backwards, she would praise him for keeping it on the line. His ability to see his progress encouraged him to keep trying when he felt like giving up.
No one becomes great without practice. The thing about practice is that it can look messy. You try and fail and repeat until you stop making mistakes. It is important to help our children appreciate their progress so they are able to recognize how far they have come. That makes the path to victory all the more attainable.
3. Have fun.
Some of my greatest memories are being on the court with my teammates during basketball games. They helped me push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. In retrospect, it is hard for me to remember every win or loss. I mostly remember how I felt playing the game.
The actual joy comes from the game itself. There is always another game. Maybe not for a championship, but when you can compete there is always the possibility you can win next time. The ability to compete is a true blessing. Tell them to go out there, give their best and most importantly, have fun.
4. Praise effort, not just results.
While watching the 2016 Olympics a few weeks ago, my sons were upset to see a hurdler lose her lead because she stumbled and tripped over a hurdle. The competitor dropped to her knees and cried. Initially my boys could not get over the heartbreak of her public failure. She was devastated and it was hard to watch. It was easy to forget she was competing in the Olympics. Win or lose, she had to be an incredible athlete to even qualify.
So often we are bombarded with news about winners. While it is wonderful for our children to see people doing exceptionally well, it can be misleading. Only seeing the success creates the illusion that successful people never struggle, falter or fail. We rarely hear about the team that won second place even though that team may be comprised of exceptional players. Success is giving your best effort and being better today than you were yesterday. Our children should focus on how they can improve and show a better effort every time they compete and not just the end result.
5. Remember your child is competing, not you.
I am a black belt in Karate. I was about twelve when I started and continued practicing throughout high school. My eldest son began practicing when he was six. While now he is older and takes it more seriously, when he first started it was hard for him to make it through class without being distracted. He would stare at himself in the mirrored walls. He would pose, do spins and get overly excited when it was time to do high energy moves. It took everything in me not to pull him out of class. I knew the focus it took to become a black belt and initially, it was difficult for me to respect that it was his process, not mine.
We can not compete for our children. As much as we want to, we can’t go on the court and shoot their shots or tackle their little opponents on the field. If we did, we might end up in jail. We have to fight the urge to relive our successes or rewrite our failures through our children. Take a step back and breath. Remember, our children are writing their own stories and they do not need our paragraphs roughly inserted onto their page. If you put too much pressure on them, they will feel like they let themselves down and you each time they do not succeed.
About The Author
Rick McCray is a married father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast. Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.