Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when parents allow their children to face the pain of loss, rejection, or failure. We have heard for years about soccer, softball, and other leagues award trophies to all the children who play. For some reason, modern parents are afraid to allow their children to be less than the best or less than perfect, so they attempt to make a world that has no winners or losers.
My own granddaughter showed me a trophy that she received that said “Best Player.” I asked her if she was the best player, and she replied that she was not but all the children got the same trophy. We know of games where there are no official scores kept because parents and officials do not want the losing team to feel bad for losing. These adults do not give the children credit for being able to think and to count. The players all knew which team won the game even if the adults would not admit it. The children were wiser than the adults and could see through the efforts to make everyone the same.
This bad idea recently showed up in a huge way with the indictments of 33 parents who were part of a nationwide scandal with college admissions. Parents did not have enough faith in their children’s ability to get into college on their own merits – or not enough faith in their own parenting ability to help their children prepare to do so – that they paid up to $500,000 to make sure that their child was accepted at an elite university. It appears that most of the parents were more concerned about the success of their children than the actual students were. The parents might have thought they were protecting their children from rejection or failure, but they might have been more concerned with their own such feelings.
An interesting article by Jennifer Graham discusses the need for all of us to know “how to weather rejection and failure.” According to psychologists and child development experts,” this is “an important component of emotional well-being,” and parents should be helping children to develop this ability rather than shielding them. Graham emphasizes that it was the parents, coaches, and other adults who were indicted with no students being charged.
Graham also points out that this problem is found in all circles of parenting. None of us want our children to be sad or rejected. She quotes “experts” who say that it might just be the parents who have the biggest problem with having children who are not the best at everything they do.
The article suggests several ways that parents can prepare their children to face rejection: (1) “offer comfort and validate the child’s experience;” (2) “make failing safe;” (3) “describe failing as part of a process, not an end;” (4) “let your child know you value her character more than her achievements;” (5) “take a back seat [and] encourage your child to come up with solutions.”
Children need to learn that losing or failing is not the end of the world. The best place to learn this fact of life is in the safety of the family and the best people to do the teaching are loving parents. After discussing numerous ways that “self-absorbent” parents attempt to push their children to success, the author made the following statement.
Evidence-based research shows that of an array of traits – including things like friendliness, emotional stability and openness to new ideas – the ones that best predict future success in children are honesty and self-control. Those qualities matter more than common sources of parental pride, such as grades or where a child goes to college….
Parents can teach children how to fail in the safe environs of the family by doing things like making sure a child doesn’t always win at board games, then coaching them through loss and rewarding them for behaving appropriately.
It is important for children to learn that losing, rejection, and failure are part of life. Children can learn to pick themselves up and become stronger if they are taught how to do so. I know a young man who became captain of his high school basketball team and earned many honors because he worked for them physically and academically. He paid the price to be successful in basketball and academics and has been accepted at the university of his choosing. He had the support of his parents and other family members, but he did it on his own.
We want the rising generation to achieve their goals and to be successful in their endeavors. However, we must prepare them to accept the fact that life is full of failures. We cannot win at everything we try. We have to learn to pick ourselves up and “make lemonade” with the “lemons” that life gives us. If parents will help their children to accept failure and rejection properly, they will also give their children the tools necessary to become successful. In doing so, they will strengthen their family, community, and nation.