TIP #2 Celebrate Failure…sometimes
It’s easy to celebrate a win. But why not celebrate trying something and failing miserably! It’s not the typical way our world thinks, but I would rather my children try anything without fear of failure, than only do things where they are assured to meet certain expectations. How much has gone unaccomplished because we are hesitant to risk failure. How will we ever discover what we are effective at unless we experiment in many areas of life?
We had some children visit us that were never allowed to play competitive games. They were only allowed to play cooperative games so as not to create the sense of needing to triumph over other people or to be diminished through defeat. Not knowing this, we played a game with them and our children, and the visiting boy lost. His reaction caught us by complete surprise. He threw the game and the wildest tantrum we had ever seen. He could not handle the idea of having failed.
The parents had great intentions. They were concerned how kids at school developed a low self esteem because they could not compete as well as others. They wanted to protect their kids from experiencing that sense of not measuring up by avoiding scenarios where children were pitted against each other.
You will fail….
The problem however, is not whether our children will or will not measure up – but what defines their identity. There will always be situations where they fail. We can’t protect them from losing, getting fired, being dislike – but we can show them how to not let that affect their sense of significance.
The children visiting us did not know how to cope with failure, nor the real world. Simply preventing them from experiencing failure did not do anything to help them understand their identity. In fact, they robbed themselves of great teaching opportunities when the children might “feel” defeat.
I confess, I’m a terrible father. When playing games with my children I didn’t let them always win. However, I affirmed the good moves they made and showed them new moves that would have helped them. By age 5 my son knew how to win at chess in 5 moves (to the humble dismay of some adults). But he was perfectly fine with not winning. There was no less fun because he didn’t win, though when he did win, the whole house heard about it!
I have met people who after failing at something once, never dared try it again. Or after being criticized by someone, they didn’t risk any further criticism by avoiding that activity.
Our children need to understand that they will not be successful at everything they do and that others will not always affirm them. But that should never stop or hinder them from pushing forward and gaining new experiences. Very few people are excellent at something when they first attempt it.
Here a few ways to accomplish this:
- Celebrate the attempt as much as you do the win
- Encourage them to try something new even if it might go horribly wrong – what are they risking?
- After a failure, discuss whether it is worth trying again or moving on from the experience. If they are hindered by fear, help them understand what lie they are buying into about their significance based on performance.
- Harass them with Edison’s quote about 3000 failures before creating a working lightbulb… or not.
- Stop critiquing everything they do
- Teach them how to lose with grace and celebrate the victory of others. They will develop deeper, more meaningful relationships if they celebrate others more than themselves.
I strive to win and avoid failure when I feel something I need is missing or threatened. The deepest voids in our lives are those of significance and acceptance. However, we become controlling or manipulative when anything threatens what we perceive gives us a full and abundant life. But what if those needs were already met? What if I didn’t need to strive because I already knew all my needs were already provided for? How might that change things?
Look at what the Bible says:
Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Philippians 4:19 (ESV)
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
God promises us repeatedly, that if we turn to him, trusting him with our whole lives, focusing on him and his purposes, that he will meet our “every” need – all of them, every one. As we learn to trust God and follow his leading for our lives, he lovingly directs us to places where he has already prepared to meet our needs. When we go off in our own direction, with our own agenda, we miss out on the provision God has already established for us elsewhere. Then we get frustrated with him wondering why we are struggling. I have to confess; I sometimes have a different perspective than God, about what my needs are.
But if we know God will meet our every need and we do not need to “strive” for anything, this is where we discover true freedom. I am free to simply be who he created me to be, doing what he created me to do. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s that simple. And everything God calls me to do, he gives me the capability to do it (along with him). It’s not my job – it’s his.
When you are secure in your identity in Christ, and that he will meet your every need for a full life, then you do not need to fear anything. In fact, he usually calls us into situations that would normally terrify us because he wants us to learn to trust him and find our life in him – not our circumstances or other relationships – just him. This is why it says in the bible that the righteous “live” by faith – it is one endless adventure of discovery that stretches us to become everything God intended us to be.
Help your children embrace the adventure!
All Posts in this Series
Developing Your Child’s Sense of Worth: Defeating the Performance Lie