Upset Boyby Christine LaRocque

Several months ago I read Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Christine Carter, a book that offered powerful and important revelations about both my parenting style and me. This fall, as I put him on the bus and send him off to school for the first time, I thought carefully about one of Carter’s most central messages.

It’s okay to fail.

And though it requires a huge leap of faith to accept, I can see the merit in this statement. We are raising our children in a culture that values achievement over effort. I do it myself through constant praise. Until recently I didn’t parent my child in a way that rewarded effort; I parented my children by recognizing success.

Why is it natural for us to assume we should succeed at everything we set out to do? How many times have you said to your own children: You can do anything you set your mind to? I say it often to my boys. I think it’s an important message. But I also think it’s critical for him to be comfortable with failure.

My experience as a parent has shown me that it’s hard to separate my own perceptions and emotions from my child’s. How we parent is inherently based on our own lived experiences. When they are young, they have no expectations. We teach them to expect by how we react to situations, in what we reward and for what we discipline. They are not us, and yet we parent them like they are.

I parent through praise. I want them to feel good, because that’s how I want to feel. I want them to be confident, because I wish I were more confident. I’ve been raised to believe that the worst thing in the world is failure. My need translates into what I perceive to be their need.

Obviously, I want my children to feel they have many opportunities ahead of them and that they will succeed. BUT if they don’t, if some things simply don’t work out for them, I want them to feel secure knowing that there was value in trying.

In Raising Happiness, Carter argues that we should teach our children “that success is a result of effort as much or more than aptitude.” She says that it’s about creating an environment where effort and engagement are the key to success as opposed to proving any special talent.

Christine Carter provided me with insight into the importance of teaching my children the skills they need to deal with the challenges and mistakes they make in their life. To not always let them think they will be good at everything and that failure isn’t something to be avoided at all costs. I hope they learn to feel comfortable and confident walking away when that is actually the best choice. To me, these would be invaluable skills that would empower my children to make the choices that are right for them and to fuel a healthy sense of ambition.

Henry Ford once said that failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. As a mother, I find these words to be wise and important. It’s a lesson I hope to teach my boys.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the book as food for thought and discussion:

We can praise our kids all day long – as long as we are attributing success to things such as effort, commitment, resourcefulness, hard work and practice.

Christine LaRocqueChristine LaRocque is a communications professional and mom to two boys. She blogs at Coffees & Commuteswhere she reflects on  life as a full-time working mom.

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9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Try and try again — Coffees and Commutes

  2. This is such an important skill to teach our kids! My mother stepped in constantly to “save” me from failure, and although I know she did it out of love, it did me no favors. I grew to believe I was this fragile little thing and feared failure tremendously. Kids need to learn that they’re made of strong stuff, and that failure is just a blip on the radar, not the end of the world.

  3. A wonderful point Christine. I try to encourage my son to try again when he fails. To make sure that he knows that his effort doesn’t go unnoticed, even if that effort doesn’t produce the outcome he was going for.

  4. Hi Christine,

    This is a valuable lesson. One that I wish my husband would learn from, especially lately with our son. But it’s hard. And frustrating. I think your post has given me the push I need to actually discuss it with him. Thanks!

  5. Wow. I am speechless. What fantastic advice and values to instill in our children. Thank you so much for this post.

  6. This post is very thought provoking, Christine. I have tried to parent my child to try, but he’s living in a culture that rewards success more than effort. I suppose our job is to give them internal respect and admiration for hard work so that they aren’t crushed or discouraged when/if they don’t receive that praise externally.

  7. I enjoyed the book for the same messages! It’s so easy to just say “good boy… good girl… good joy… what a good kid…” but naming the effort behind the good is so important.

  8. Christine, I couldn’t agree more! Failure is part of life. I think we try too hard to shelter kids from real and essential feelings. That said, I want my kids to see their failures as specific instances.

    I read that specific praise works best. Hearing you’re a great artist can become meaningless, while hearing what a great color you chose, what bold lines, etc, is clearly about that drawing, that child, that moment. (Criticism works the same way.)

  9. I still have trouble trying things I know I will fail at, at least the first few (or several) times. Always have. Thanks for the reminder to rethink my mindset, if not for my own sake than to save my children the same neurosis!

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