Q: As a dad, I expect my children to meet high standards every time. That’s how my father raised me, and I turned out OK. But my wife thinks we should cut them some slack. What’s the balance?
A: This may initially sound like terrible advice, but the truth is you should be teaching your children to fail – and then get up. Learning to feel comfortable with your children’s failures can transform your parenting.
Think about how you reacted when your child was learning to walk. That process is really just a long string of failures that ends in success. A toddler may only take one or two steps before falling down, but we don’t tell them to give up and wait a few years. No, we immediately encourage them to get back up and to try again. We’ll stretch out our hands and say, “Come to daddy.” And they do. They get back to their feet and wiggle out a few more shaky steps.
But something changes in many parents as our children get older. As the consequences for mistakes become more severe, we become less tolerant of failure because we want them to succeed and do well. We’d never call it perfection, but on a practical level that’s exactly what our children feel like we expect. We have great intentions, but create unnecessary pressure that ends up working against them. They need – and respond to – encouragement with guidance.
So if perfection has become the unspoken rule in your house, re-centre yourself as a parent. The goal is to raise healthy, resilient children, who are willing to get back up, grow from their mistakes, and keep moving forward.
Encourage excellence, but help your children know that it’s okay to fail and to try again. Progress, not perfection, is what we want them to learn.
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