When I was in middle school, we went to a lot of the school basketball games. Sometimes we won; sometimes we lost. Invariably, on those sad drives home after a loss, my mother would say, “Losing builds character.” Honestly, it didn’t feel like it in the moment. How, exactly, does losing build character? I never thought to ask Mom, but now I think I know…at least a little. Losing and other failures give us fantastic chances to gently help our children grow in faith and humility.
Pointing our children toward humility begins with an acknowledgement of God and who He is, then of who we are in relation to Him. There are times for that exact conversation, but there are also times to bring our children along the humility path in everyday situations. Last week, we considered two ways NOT to praise our children. This week, let’s look at:
2 Ways NOT to Talk About Failure with Our Children
You might think these attitudes will help balance their self-esteem, but you’ll actually find them detrimental. (I know from experience!) So DON’T…
Remind them of their failures.
This is just belittling. It doesn’t foster humility; it fosters inadequacy and uncertainty. Plus, they most certainly remember that failure even more clearly than you! Just as we’ve been forgiven, just as God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), our children need us to put away last year’s failures…and last week’s.
There may be times when we’re working on consistency in a particular area that we must review previous failures, but these should be done gently and specifically, without adding unrelated issues to it. Look for patterns. One lie last year doesn’t mean your child is a chronic liar. One “epic fail” at a spelling bee doesn’t mean your child should never enter another spelling contest. Even if you feel you must stir up old wounds, focus on growth and improvement, not on chronic faults.
Make excuses for their failures or blame others.
“Owning” one’s mistakes and deficiencies is a difficult lesson—one that many adults struggle to learn. We can’t model shifting blame or making excuses for our children if we want them to have a healthy view of themselves.
Before you speak, consider what is true. Is someone else responsible for this failure such that the child had no opportunity to succeed? Is it appropriate to point that out to the child? Most of the time, the child (and probably the parent—that’s you and me) bears some portion of the responsibility.
Instead of “Well, your teacher didn’t explain it properly,” try “What could you have done on your own when you realized you didn’t understand?”
Instead of “Your sitter shouldn’t have let you watch six hours of TV,” try “How much TV do you typically watch? Did you have the power to turn off the TV?”
Instead of “That referee was biased,” try “Well, the referee is human, too. He sometimes makes mistakes. Can you forgive him and move on?” or “Now that you know how he calls fouls, what will you do next time?”
We can turn failures into learning experiences with a little forward thinking on our parts.
As you talk with your children about success and failure, try sprinkling a couple of these Bible verses into the conversation:
He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. –Proverbs 3:34 (quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.)
God is the only one who never fails.
Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. –Joshua 23:14
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. –Lamentations 3:22
For no word from God will ever fail. –Luke 1:36-37
Our earthly failures are not as important as our faith in God.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. –Psalm 73:26
Sometimes what looks like a failure to us is a success in God’s eyes.
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. –2 Corinthians 13:7
To review, we have 4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children:
- Praise them only when they win.
- Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.
- Remind them of their failures.
- Make excuses for their failures or blame others.
What about you? When have you talked about success or failure effectively with your children? I’d love to hear some others’ thoughts on this! And for more on helping your kids learn through failure, check out this education blog post.