Watching your child fail makes you feel helpless, angry and sad. You worry about everything from your child`s self-esteem and social development to their future success. While it`s natural for parents to worry about failure, there are times when it can be productive for kids`and a chance for them to change.

`There's an old Chinese saying, "Failure is the mother of success." Einstein is rumoured to have flunked math for years; Steve Jobs was fired from the company he started, only to return a few years later and take Apple to new heights; Walt Disney himself was fired early in his career by a newspaper editor who told him that he "had no imagination and no good ideas."

Many educators and parent professionals say failure -- even the opportunity for failure -- is a necessary ingredient for raising autonomous, resilient young adults.

"Failure is an opportunity to get your child to look at himself."

Parents tell all the time that they fear their child will fail in life. When asked specifically they`re afraid of their child failing, usually it`s school-related`a certain subject, or perhaps a grade level. The thinking of most parents is, once you start`failing in school, it`s hard to catch up. For many parents, it creates a crisis in the family when their child fails in a subject or gets bad grades.

`It`s often stated that the Chinese symbol for `crisis` is a combination of the symbols for `danger` and `opportunity.` I think that parents see the danger part very clearly in a crisis, but often they don`t see the opportunity: your child has the opportunity to learn an important lesson. The lesson might be about the true cost of cutting corners, what happens when he doesn`t do his best at something, or what the real consequences are for not being productive. It might be a chance for your child to learn the cost of misleading and lying to his parents about how much work he`s actually done or what grades he`s receiving. I think if your child misleads and he gets a failing grade, that`s the natural`consequence for his behaviour`and he should experience the discomfort of his choices.

Many of the parents are uncomfortable with this at first. Instead of allowing their child to fail, they try to get the teacher to change the grade. `What their child is going to learn is that they don`t have to take responsibility for their ineffective behaviour`that somebody else is going to fight for them. When you try to change the actions of people around your child so he won`t feel disappointed or upset, your child is not going to learn the lesson you imagine he`s going to learn. And not only that, he`s also not going to learn math, or science, or whatever it is he`s been avoiding. Worst of all, he`s not even going to learn to not be duplicitous in the future. What he`is`going to learn is that `It`s OK.

Once again we see the danger of your child thinking that power can solve his problems. When that conclusion is made, he learns that power can replace responsibility. In a healthier equation, schoolwork problems are dealt with by the child who gradually takes more responsibility in doing his homework. The power emanates from the responsibility-taking. But if a parent goes and fights with the school and gets the teacher to change the grade, then the power is coming from the wrong place. Your child is going to learn that power trumps responsibility. In fact, he will learn that the power of being manipulative and threatening is more valuable than actually being accountable and doing the work competently.

I believe if your child fails a subject or even fails the year, if you`re addressing the problem, you`re starting to solve it.`It`s an opportunity to get your child to make some changes. Failure is an opportunity to get your child to look at himself. Part of parents` sensitivity to this is that if their child fails, they feel like they`ve failed, too. So they`re hyper-sensitive to that, and I understand. It`s tough to be a parent who works hard and does the best he or she can, and then have your kids fail. You want to say, `What more can I do`` But the question really is, `What more can my child do`` It`s not `What am I`not`doing as a parent`` It`s `What is`he`not doing as a student`` That`s the right question to ask yourself.

Look at it this way: when a child is feeling upset, frustrated,`angry`or sad, they`re in a position to develop some important coping skills. The first thing they learn is to avoid similar situations. So if your child is called on in class to answer a homework question and he didn`t do it, he can learn to avoid that by doing his homework`not by having his mother tell the teacher not to call on him anymore because it makes him feel bad.

The other thing that happens is that your child builds up a tolerance for discomfort, an emotional callous, if you will, and I think that`s very valuable. Discomfort is such a part of our life, whether you`re squeezed into a subway car, waiting in line at the supermarket, or passed over for a promotion. Everyone experiences difficult things from time to time, which will make you uncomfortable and frustrated. It`s so important for your child to be able to learn how to manage those situations and to develop a tolerance for them. So I advise parents to let your kid wait in line`don`t try to figure out how to cut ahead. When your child is starting to get frustrated, point it out. Suggest a coping skill.

How to Talk to Your Child about Failing: 3 Questions Parents Should Ask Whether dealing with feelings of discomfort or feelings of failure, there are three simple questions parents can ask their child.


  1. ``What part did you play in this```That`s what you want your child to learn, because that`s all he can change. The lesson stems from there. Your child might say, `I don`t know what part I played, Dad.` You can respond by saying, `Well, let`s think about it. Where did you get off track` Where did things go wrong for you`` If your child doesn`t know, you can say, `Well, it seems to me you got off track when you didn`t have your homework ready when your teacher called on you. The part you played was not being prepared. And the solution to that is getting prepared.` Your child may agree with you, or he may try to offer some defense. But any defense that`s offered is not going to be legitimate as long as you`re speaking in the context of `What part did you play`` You just need to point out, `Well, it seems to me like you`re making an excuse for not having your homework done.` Or `Seems to me you`re blaming me for not having your homework done.` Or `It looks to me like you`re blaming your teacher for not having your homework done.``whatever the case may be.
  2. `What are you going to do differently next time```So it`s, `What are you going to do differently the next time when you have to do your homework`` Or `What are you going to do differently next time so that if your teacher calls on you, you won`t get embarrassed`` Or `What are you going to do differently next time to pass the test`` This is a big question in this conversation with your child, because it gets him to see other, healthier ways of responding to the problem.
  3. `What did you learn from this````What did you learn from being embarrassed when your teacher called on you`` `What did you learn from not passing the test`` Put the responsibility back on your child. If you take his responsibility over, it`s just going to become a power struggle. With all the problems that exist in education today, the last thing you need is to be in a power struggle with your child`s teacher.

When is your child going to learn to deal with ineffective teachers` Where do you think your child is going to learn to deal with injustice` Part of learning`for everyone`involves feeling uncomfortable at times. Part of loving your child responsibly means that you need to let him feel discomfort, and even fail, as long as he`s learning how to be accountable for his actions in the process.


Source - James Lehman, MSW ` Empowering Parents

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