Dr. Leah Claire Bennett, PhD
Writing this article could not be happening at a better time for me. My 5-year-old started kindergarten this year, and I cannot express how much of a battle I am having in my head regarding allowing my child to experience some pain in life.
Just this morning, I was running around desperately trying to fill his backpack with items because he said he felt bored yesterday waiting for class to start. On one hand, maybe that is a helpful thing to do for my child, but on the other hand, I know my true motivation—I want him to be happy ALL the time!
I should know better because one of the most painful parts of my job is working with adults who believe that any setback in life makes them a complete failure. Most of my clients are highly educated, financially stable, and by the standards of today doing really well; however, they look in the mirror and see nothing but the one thing that did not go in their favor. They define themselves as a Failure.
This sadly has been what our culture has bred in individuals. We’ve gone far beyond the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality and moved to not only pulling yourself up but being the fastest and have the most ingenious way of doing so in order to beat your competition. In other words, you must win or you are Nothing!
Nothing—that is extremely harsh language! How did that life lesson eek its way into our society? Generations have proven that every new generation wants to have their children do more and go farther than their own. It is also natural that as a parent you want to protect your child from getting hurt, feeling embarrassed, or experiencing suffering.
In the movie Inside Out, this could not be demonstrated more clearly than by the character Joy. Her mission every day is to see that Riley has nothing but an overwhelming amount of positive experiences and she will stop at nothing to make sure this happens. (If you have not seen this movie, I highly recommend you watch it.)
Some may ask, well, what’s the problem with this? The problem is that every time we block our children from these negative emotions, we send the message that life is perfect and that everything will go in their favor. How true is that of life, where your child will always be a winner or always get exactly what they want? It’s a big, fat lie that we are feeding our children and only setting them up to believe in fairy tale endings, which of course are never the case in reality.
Instead of feeding our children lies, there is a much better way, which includes teaching our children to build resilience. Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” A person does not possess resilience or not, It is instead a skill that is honed over years of experience. That experience only comes one way—through allowing our children to face failure and adversity.
One of the most basic components in developing resilience is demonstrating to your children that you love and support them no matter what, which is the unconditional love they deserve. They will feel stronger and more secure if they can trust that when they come home, they are not going to be ridiculed for not making the winning shot or for making a B- instead of an A+. It will also help with building their self-confidence just to have a supportive home environment.
Friendships are also helpful for children during difficult times. It is important for them to learn how to reach out when they are having a terrible day and know there is someone they care about that is there to listen.
Secondly, it is important to help your child see that the problem is temporary and that the difficult feelings will not last forever. This can be difficult for some, especially when your child feels that whatever just happened is ABSOLUTELY going to ruin the rest of their life! Instead of staying stuck here, help them talk through the emotions they feel by asking supportive, non-threatening questions and let them know that they are not alone. One helpful metaphor that I’ve used with clients is that the emotions are like waves, intense when they are happening, but will dissipate and fade with time.
Additionally, help your child problem solve the situation and learn something from the experience. There are life lessons everywhere, and one of the best things children can learn from a failure is that it is an opportunity to grow. Everyone can gain information about themselves, their faith, and the world during difficult and trying times if they will take the time to slow down and notice the lesson.
During this exploration, it is also helpful to remind children of times when they have faced similar situations and ways they were able to work through it then. This helps build their confidence and willingness to move past the bitter emotions into something that will help them process problems throughout their lives.
Above all, every Christian understands that there is but one perfect person, and that is Jesus. Failure is an opportunity to draw close to God and allow Him to comfort us. Psalm 145:18 reminds us that, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” We need to take the time to often remind our children that we are imperfect people loved by a perfect God.
In doing so, we show our children that failure is inevitable but no matter how we mess things up, God will never stop loving us.
Dr. Leah Claire Bennett, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and Program Director of Professional Enhancement Program at Pine Grove. Dr. Bennett’s primary focus is to help professionals who have struggled in a variety of ways return to work in a manner where they are able to engage at their highest potential.