Plotting Against the Children

By Michael

Marketing a book of life lessons takes you to all kinds of websites; none of which can compare to this one, of course. Recently, I ran into a troubling conversation that merits our consideration here.

The topic was forcing your children into situations where they are certain to fail. The idea, as I read it, is that bad experience is a better teacher than success. The more they fail, the more they learn and the tougher they get.

Which is true, up to a point. And the point where it’s absolutely not true is when parents think they should inflict failure as a teaching tool. Teach them to try, teach them that failure is not the end of the world, even alert them that others might want them to fail at times. But…and this is huge….a parent should never be a conspirator in the failure of a child.

Not just our own children. Any children.

What’s the best way to toughen up our children, to prepare them to deal with the harshness that life presents without becoming harsh in the process? How do we teach them what I often describe as acceptance without acquiescence? Can we really prepare them for the real world, or is this something you just have to live in before you can understand?

How we react to our children’s setbacks is a huge teaching moment for them, for better or worse. Do we take up the banner and fight for them or leave them to figure it all out? Do we tell them the thing they wanted doesn’t really matter, so it’s no loss, or do we share in their sadness? Do we blame some person or situation for sabotaging them, or do we make plans to succeed the next time?

Neither success nor failure is permanent, although both will be our companions all through life. Both are great teachers and both can lead us to false expectations. The best lesson I know about coping is the one my dad taught me, and retold a thousand times:

This, too, shall pass.

Even though it’s hard for them to understand at the time, perhaps that’s exactly the right lesson.

Michael Rosenbaum is 5 Minutes for Parenting’s first dadblogger. He is a business consultant, playwright and author of Your Name Here: Guide to Life.

Michael blogs on life issues at Your Name Here Guide to Life and manages the Adult Conversation discussion group on Linked-In.

7 Responses to Plotting Against the Children
  1. edj
    May 4, 2010 | 7:02 am

    What? How bizarre. I think life will bring plenty of opportunities for failure. It seems to me the height of arrogance to assume you have to artificially introduce failure to your child’s life–that he or she won’t face it otherwise.
    Obviously failure can teach us mighty lessons we wouldn’t have otherwise learned. But in my experience, just letting our kids get out there and live life will bring plenty of that their way.

  2. Kelly
    May 4, 2010 | 12:12 pm

    Really? I mean … really?!?

    I agree with Elizabeth: If you let your kids live life, they’ll encounter failure on their own. Why would a parent need to set them up for it? Seems a bit mean-spirited. (“Here, kid, let me break your arm for you. That way, you’ll know not to jump off the roof.”)

    I like your Dad’s response of “This too shall pass.” I’ve heard that used mostly in negative situations. But it applies aptly to the positive moments too. Don’t get cocky. Balance.

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