A ship in harbour is safe but thats not what ships are built for.

  • Your child says “yuk” and doesn’t want to eat what you’ve cooked for dinner
  • It’s the end of the world when a favourite toy is lost
  • Your daughter is the only one to miss out on the netball team, all of her friends are successful

Facebook isn’t full of stories about kids facing disappointment or failure. We post pictures of wins. We all want our kids to succeed. Focusing too much attention on winning can have down sides, creating unrealistic expectations and shaky self-image. How can we support kids when they are winning as well as when they are experiencing failure? How can parents balance these two things? A story from my friend, who is a netball coach, brings parenting drama’s like this into focus:

“It’s up to a panel of selectors to decide who gets into the netball team. Recently an email arrived from a parent whose daughter was selected for the “B” team and not the “A” team. According to the parent the child had a “really bad day” and should be in the other team….. (!)”

Whaaaaaat? Wait a minute…..do parents actually do this? Yep, according to my netball friend it happens a lot. I’m not having a go at the netball mum. Stand between me and my kid and I become the mama bear too, the instinct to protect is strong. If we over-react what is the impact on our kids?

How we respond to these “teachable moments” has a big impact on the way children think and feel about life’s up’s and downs.

Here are 5 parenting strategies to make sure that kids keep learning, even when they’re feeling hard done by.

  1. Focus on the process not the results

This mantra is from “growth mindset” guru, Carol Dweck. Over 2 decades of research says that creating a negative view of failure isn’t helpful. It also sets up unrealistic expectations for the future. Not being in the “A” team is not going to be the worst thing your child will experience.  As hard as it can be to watch, we need to let kids experience disappointment for them to grow and get stronger.

     2. Model coping with disappointment and making mistakes

Parents who get parking tickets or break their favourite vase can turn these setbacks into powerful learning experiences. In the moment when you show how you practice taking a few deep breaths, you’re modelling how to overcome and be resilient.

You might use an “I feel….” statement and say something like this:

“I feel really annoyed that happened.”

“I feel….” statements  encourage emotional literacy. Never easy to do at first, but when we show that we can be annoyed and cope with negative emotion we’re setting a precedent. Over time, this response will appear at the front of your child’s mind when your child has something bad happen to them. Like when you serve fish instead of their favourite spaghetti bolognese.

   3.We can accept all feelings, not all behaviours

Our child will be more inclined to get through failure when we listen to them effectively. This is called being an emotion coach.

When our child hears us say phrases like “Mmmm…” ”I see…” and “Ahhhh…..” it communicates that the emotions they are feeling are valid. We are communicating that we’re here with them. We don’t have to fix it, just saying we’re here is enough for now. And if they’ve lost their toy you might not have purchased a replica so these phrases could come in handy.

  4. Act – don’t react

Do you find yourself feeling irritated or even trying to convince your child to be more positive when your child is in the midst of strong negative emotion?

Feelings are contagious – it’s normal that when our child feels upset, we do too. Reacting isn’t going to help them in the moment. Responding in a measured way (even when we’re not feeling like that on the inside) will.

What can we do to set ourselves up so that we’re more likely to keep calm?

One Dad I know says “Act, don’t react” to himself. It’s different for everyone – a fast walk around the block helps me to press the reset button and carry on.

5. Encourage your child to take responsibility for what is happening

This step is for when everyone has calmed down and you decide to revisit the “teachable moment” to encourage a problem solving approach for next time.

Ask empowering questions like:

“What’s your strategy going to be?” and “What is one thing you would do differently next time?”.

By modelling coping strategies, over time, our child’s ability to problem solve independently will improve, as will their resilience. Just don’t take responsibility for the problem yourself or you’ll remove their opportunity to learn.


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