Failure Is The Teaching Moment
Consequence The Teaching Tool
You can’t teach responsibility in a classroom.
You can teach the theory. You can define the words but you can’t convey the real meaning of responsibility outside of experience, which involves two things we don’t like very much. The first one is consequence. It is the primary teaching tool.
The second one is failure. You don’t have a consequence unless you have a failure, which means failure is a part of the formula too. That might sound discouraging but when you do the math, the emotional math, it works.
Failure plus consequence equals “Aha!” I get it! But the formula doesn’t always compute because parents add another element to the equation, protectionism. It changes the outcome completely.
Parents feel badly when kids fail and will do everything possible to turn that failure into anything other than failure. They call it a mistake, and it may be, but mistake or not it is still a failure.
Protection Adds A Mistake To A Mistake
Parents who over protect their children are hurting not helping.
Accepting the consequences of an honest mistake has a very positive outcome. It sensitizes us to the need to be cautious. To think twice. To watch more carefully. To avoid rushing.
Mistake prone people need to learn this lesson. When consequences are easily brushed aside, not developing a healthy sense of caution, is the price one pays.
Failure is not something you can soft soap. It doesn’t feel good, ever. No one likes it and we hate to see those we love struggle through the pain. It’s not a nice thing to watch.
And those who fail don’t help much. Their body language pleads for protection and they joyously receive it when someone swoops in to brush away all the mess: pay the bill, buy a new toy, fix the problem, explain it away. Protectors feel savior-like.
Parents are notorious for taking this approach and we can easily understand why. They don’t want their children to feel badly and they don’t want to appear insensitive, uncaring and demanding. Because they have the power to protect it isn’t always easy to explain why they don’t.
We really need to get over that. Bad feelings are a naturally occurring part of life and helping kids learn how to manage them is an important part of “Good Parenting.”
When failure happens, the best policy is to let it run its course. Let the feeling of failure be felt in all its depressive-ness.
Castigation Is A Mistake
But that brings us to another issue, the parent’s emotional response to a child’s failure. Parents take it personally when kids fail – as if their child is perfect rather than normal – and very naturally take a condemning tone of voice. They also add a little punishment to the consequences for good measure. Don’t do it.
Consequences are the punishment for failure. Additional punishment is overkill. Nothing else needs to be added. No accusation, no criticism, no fault finding, no added penalty.
In fact, parents must support their kids and be there for them through the process. Cheering them, advising them, helping them (within reason) and showing them the positive side to dealing with consequences, without condemning, are all good things to do. There is no rejection in this approach. The child will take away two clear messages from this type of response.
- One, they are loved and accepted unconditionally, failure or not.
- Two, they aren’t the problem, failure is, and it should be avoided at all cost.
This approach is psychologically inoculating. Paying the price for one failure hardens the resolve to avoid future failures. It’s also the responsible approach for parents.
Failing Does Not Make Us Failures
Obviously, parents don’t want their kids to be failures but there is a big difference between failing and being a failure. Everyone fails. Only those who don’t learn from it become failures.
Failing is what happens when we do something stupid or try something we can’t do or reach for more than we can handle or feel compelled to push the boundaries. Failure also happens when we try to make progress. Everyone should try to make progress and in most cases will fail a few times in the process. It’s normal. Even for kids. Failure is an important part of the learning process.
Becoming a failure on the other hand is what happens when people never learn to deal with failure realistically. A failure is someone who never learned to clean up their messes, so they see nothing wrong with making more messes repeatedly. In there minds, someone else will manage the consequence.
If you’re not convinced think of it like the mumps.
When kids get the mumps, they’re in for a rough ride, and good parents, instead of trying to stop it from happening, will ride out the storm knowing the child will survive the illness and be immune to it later.
Dealing with consequences is one way to let failure run its course. It inoculates kids from future failure.
So the next time your child fails remember that failure presents a teaching opportunity and consequence is the teaching tool.
Next: Responsibility, Part 2.