Like most parents, you probably want to protect your kid from the disappointment and hurt associated with failure.
And so you may be tempted to steer him away from challenges that might prove too difficult for him, or to give him the answer to puzzles the moment he starts to struggle with them.
Yet that approach can backfire, even if you have good intentions. The danger is that if you discourage your child from participation because of your fear that he might fail, then you teach your six-year-old to value only achievement, not effort.
His competitive spirit will diminish and he will not be prepared to try any new challenge without a cast-iron gurantee of success. That would be a pity for a number of reasons.
Where’s the fun?
First, it takes all the fun out of childhood activities. For instance, splashing about in the pool with friends, before and after competing with each other in the water, is a significant part of Junior’s enjoyment of swimming.
He would miss all that by focusing soley on the win-or-lose dimension. The fun of childhood is lost when fear of failure is encouraged.
Second, your kid would soon only agree to take part in an activity he already knows – and that is hardly likely to stretch his abilities.
True, the risk of failure will be non-existent and you’ll have protected him from any disappointment, but you’ll also have shielded him from the excitement that stems from tackling unfamiliar oppurtunities.
He needs to try new experiences, otherwise his life will be dull and unimaginative and you’ll never see that expression of delight on his face that stems from the “Yesss, I did it” feeling.
Third, his anxiety will increase and his self-confidence will decrease. He’s smart enough to know why you don’t want him to take part – he knows you think he’ll fail.
That shows him what little belief you have in his abilities, and encourages him to have the same lack of faith in himself. He’ll benefit more from your encouragement to participate.
Take the risk
A more positive approach is to discuss his chances of success openly and honestly with him before he starts a new activity or challenge.
For instance, ask Junior to assess his own chances of being selected for the school choir, before he auditions for it.
This focuses his attention on the possibillity of failure and therefore helps prepare him for such an outcome. Point out that there are many other excellent singers at his school and that he may not be selected.
Add that you’ll still think he has a good singing voice even if he fails to achieve his goal. It’s important that he values homself – that way, he’ll learn to cope with failure. Help him prepare for a new challenge and offer support when he begins to have doubts about his ability.
He’ll be pleased to have your interest and advice, and will be reassured to know that you want him to try even though he might not succeed. Helping him prepare for, say, selection for a school team can bring you and him closer together.
The same applies to school tests. Help him plan his study schedule, encourage him on the day of the test, and cheer him up if he doesn’t get the high score he hoped for.
These simple steps mean that your kid won’t grow up fearing failure, and he’ll be proud of his achievements large or small. He will learn to stretch his abilities even though he might not be the best at everything.
That, surely, is better than dodging failure altogther.