03/17/2015 01:27 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT

Don't Fear Failure, Learn From it!

MECKY via Getty Images

In continued gratitude for all my new subscribers from the Teen Parenting Summit 2015, I'm going to devote another blog post to one of their burning questions. When asked what their biggest parenting challenge was, this was one response that captured the flavour of a large majority of the issues:

"Knowing when to intervene and help my daughter vs. when to let her be (make her own decisions, etc, with the possibility of "failure")."

And my answer is...

Dear Struggling Summiteer,

Your question raises one of the most common issues I discuss with my clients, so know that you are not alone! When your daughter goes from elementary school to middle school or high school, it's difficult to catch up in our minds. We think that the same systems that worked in elementary school will continue to be effective in middle school and high school, but we're wrong. When they don't work, we just keep doing the same thing harder. That is a perfect way to alienate our pre-teens and teens; I know this, because I did it with my two eldest kids. And it worked just as horribly with the second as it did the first.

I now know that a flexible discipline model that grows with your child is a way to sustain a happy home. Flexibility is key because stuff happens, and our ability to roll with the punches directly affects our kid's ability to roll with the punches. If we aren't afraid of failing, accepting failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, then we will develop resiliency right alongside our child. Because, my friends, resiliency beats control every time. We cannot control circumstances, but we can develop a mindset that looks for solutions as problems arise. And if we can demonstrate this for our kids by doing it ourselves, then they will actually pay attention. Leading by example is a much more effective parenting tool than "Do it, because I said so."

If we aren't afraid of failure, then we can clearly assess when failure might be the perfect lesson for our teens. The way to gauge when to step in and when to let our kids make their own mistakes is completely subjective and individualized to your teen. However, if we, as parents, can take very good care of ourselves, with enough sleep, exercise, and soul filling (quiet time, meditation, watching re-runs of Parenthood), then we can let our kids have their own experience, with us there for guidance when, and only when, they ask for help. If they don't ask for help, and they fail, that's a very good experience for them in the long run.

It's okay to let your kids fall, so they can learn how it feels to get back up on their own. Failure in middle school or high school has a much less drastic effect on their long-term success than failure in their first job, when you're not there to help them. If you never let your kids fail, then they won't know how to innovate and grow. They will never risk anything for fear of the failure monster and may live lives of quiet desperation, knowing that they're missing out by never risking anything. It's not our job to keep our kids pain-free; our job is to help them be resilient.

If they don't do their homework, and they fail a test or a paper, there are consequences. The consequences can be determined by you (punishment in the form of losing privileges) or there can be a natural consequence, such as missing out on sports participation for a bad grade. Either way, you don't have to worry about it, because worry doesn't help. If you can maintain a sense of calm, even in the face of failure, then your child will understand that failure is something to be managed, not something that buries us. And if you're practicing your self-care, calm is infinitely easier to maintain. Remaining calm in the face of challenges will lead to a growth-oriented child who believes in her ability to keep trying, or, in other words, resiliency.


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