Chrstmas Spirit

Chrstmas Spirit
My wife and kids having a little holiday fun

Friday, January 28, 2011

Handling Failure

I am glad to have you back again!  I am noticing some of my parenting questions getting more difficult.  I think some of you out there are trying to test me.  Well, bring it on because I asked for it.  There is an email address on the right side of the screen all questions can be sent to.  If I don't think I can answer your question, I'll send you a return email privately.  Please be patient with me.  I only answer one question per week for now.  On that note, buckle up because this ride will not be pretty. 

Today's question is from "Amy" who asks "How should I respond to my child who has failed at things important to her?"  Amy mentioned grades and a cheer leading team as examples.

First of all, allow me to be blunt- failure stinks.  What I would like to impart to you is our children do not have the same mental capacity to handle a failing situation like most of us do as adults.  There were times when I was a kid that I failed and my mom (God bless her) would give me the ol shake it off speech in one way or another.  "Shake it off Clay.  It will be just fine."  Another line used more than once went something like, "It won't even matter when you are an adult." (But mom, I am only 11)

I'm not angry in the least at my mom but the truth is she didn't know what to do or what to say.  I would be willing to bet there are a lot of parents who mean well just like my mom but don't know what to do as well.

The first glimpse I had at looking at what was perceived as failure through the eyes of a child came at St. Joseph Children's Home.  I'll guarantee few parents who read this will understand failure like a child who goes through an adoption fair, doesn't get "picked" and watches one of his buddies who does.  I won't get into the process but it goes on for quite a while before the adopted kid actually leaves.  Therefore, everyday the "chosen" kid is still at the home is a reminder for the unpicked child.

Some of the children in these cases were inconsolable for a while. It was really hard on me personally to watch these things happen even if I was happy for the newly adopted child.  This was especially true when a kid looked right in my eyes and asked that familiar question, "Why couldn't it have been me?"  Another of my heart wrenching "favorites" was "What's wrong with me?"

I told you that story because I had a general response/attitude that worked for me in these dire times and I hope it works for you as well.  My response was something like "I know things didn't work out for you but I'm right here and I think the world of you."  The only reason this worked for me was because the relationship I had with certain kids was top notch.  Anything less, and the kids would have interpreted my words as pure B.S.  In these moments, that is the last thing a kid needs.

When it comes to Amy and her question.  Grades come and go but if they are important to the child, then they should be to you.  Let's pretend, for example, we are talking about a math grade.  I would display a nurturing attitude with a tough undertone (because that is my nature).  Here's how this would look.     

I'd put my arms around Amy's kid and let her cry.  When she was finished, I'd let the child know how smart she is and that we were going to work through this problem together.  In the ensuing days though, if I ever saw the kid slacking on the math work, I wouldn't be quite as nurturing.  I'd give subtle reminders of how that math grade made her feel and encourage her to stay focused.

Cheerleading is pretty much the same story.  Any time a child doesn't make a team, it is devastating because of (1) the feelings of failure for not making the team and (2) having to face the peers at school who did.  Although the math grade may be more important to you as a parent, the cheerleading problem may be harder in the eyes of the child.  After all, the math grade is private.
Photo taken at a public event of event partici...
It is not easy to face the girls who beat you in school

I'd like to know why she didn't make the team by talking to the coach.  (Don't pressure the coach to include the child on the team).  Find out what she can improve on and attack the weaknesses if the child is willing.  If not, it may be a good idea to find another sport which she is better suited.  Let the choice be hers.

As all of us know, failure is a part of life.  No one succeeds at everything.  But, the effective parent will get down on the child's level, help them through the pain, and teach towards the future.

Thanks to all who stopped by today.  If you think this post is worthy please pass it along to another family.  

This Monday, I will be back with an education blog.  I am going to write the illusionists piece I premised last Friday and some similarities they have with teachers. Break out your magic wands and hidden keys and I'll see you Monday.    


  1. I enjoyed reading, Clay. Thanks for the tips and sharing. I could not imagine the adoption scenario. That breaks my heart. Hope you and your family have a fabulous weekend!

  2. I must say that I love coming here. Your insights on parenting are quite amazing. It's so true. Children do not have the intellectual capacity to handle failure as adults do. They are SO caught up on what they want to accomplish/feel they need to accomplish that it seems to take up their whole world. And in that moment, it often does. I think finding the empathy towards them helps. A lot.

  3. This is great advice Clay- what a difficult thing to see and experience at the children's home. Your heart must have ached for them. I like your honest and gentle response- good for you:)

  4. Thanks so much for following. What a wonderful blog and a great resource on parenting/teaching.

  5. That was pretty gut wrenching hearing about the kids not getting adopted. My kids are still small so we haven't gotten to the failure problems. Yet. Whenever something happened to me that I thought was devastating my Grandmother would make me hot chocolate and just listen. I always felt better afterwards.

  6. I read a book recently called "Bringing out the Best in People" and it talked a lot about motivation, success, and failure. The book was written for business managers but it also talks a lot about family. I thought it was a really good read and helpful for parents to learn how to be motivators for their children.

  7. Hi! I’m your newest follower. Please stop by and follow back when you have a chance. You can also add your blog to our Blog Hop! Have a Sweet Friday.

  8. Nice blog Clay.

    I am following you Google, Networked Blogs and on twitter as CandidaJourney.

    You are following me on google.... Thanks!!!

  9. Thanks for stopping by! Following back!

  10. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to observe the adoption fair let alone being one of those children not taken at that moment in time. That being said, I would like to rock the boat a bit and offer another perspective on children failing.

    Instead of following up with the coach to find out why the child did not make the cheer team, why not ask the child a series of inquisitive questions that will help the child learn more about themsleves, the experience and what changes, if any they want to make going forward. For instance:

    * What surprised you about NOT making the team
    * What would you do differently next time
    * Have you spoken to the coach about how you might train differently for next year
    * Is it important enough to you to get additional information
    * What can I do to support you?

    Believe it or not, a failure for a child, can often times mean nothing more than a 24 hour mood swing, from sadness, or regret or embarrassment, only to be replaced later with joy, satisfaction and confidence. Failure, real failure is when we don't go after something we want. Failure isn't getting a lousy grade or not making the team.

    With grades, its the same kinds of questions. The goal is to help the child learn more about themselves, not focusing on how to "get" the A the next time or how to "make" the team next year.

    It's about helping children dive deeper into themselves and to learn more about themselves while they are with us. This enables kids to create a meaningful life between 18 and 80.

  11. I believe all small business should have business phone service. If you are one or two employee company or in business where all your staff is on the road, then you don't really need a business line. Just get a business phone service and it will work on top of your staff personal cell phones. When they receive a call, it will indicate that it is a business call on their call display so they can answer it professionally. All your staff can have their own professional voicemail system. You can monitor how many calls are answered and missed. I have been usingbusiness phone service from telcan. Check them out at: Check out Check out Business Phone Service