My oldest son started playing the drums two years ago. He was in 7th grade, most of the kids joined the band in the 6th grade and in the beginning, he was just happy when he could keep up! Then he started practicing, and taking lessons and before I knew it he had progressed into the higher level band. Now the pressure was on! Jazz band, all county band, district honor band, and of course All State Band.
I remember driving him to his first audition. I was NERVOUS! I was listening to the kids in line ahead of him and trying to rank and compare. I heard every mistake he made and celebrated everything he did well. He was calm. I was externally calm, but internally on edge. It brought back memories of all of my auditions and all of the stress that came with it.
As we were leaving he said to me, “Well I did my best, and now I’ll just wait to see if I made it.”
That was a Saturday. On Monday he came home from school and said, “I didn’t make it.” As simple as that. Not a lot of emotion involved. So I prodded. “Are you disappointed?”
“Sure, I wanted to make it. But I’m not upset about it. It was my first audition.” It was so simple to him. He had practiced for weeks. He had missed the cut off by like one point. And he was fine.
I thought about that for days afterwards. He was amazing at failing! I was impressed! When I was his age, a failure could have taken me weeks to recover from, and sometimes if I failed, I just didn’t try again. Auditions were so stressful for me that I didn’t do things unless I thought I had a pretty good chance at success. I remember wanting to try out for a school play, convincing myself that I wouldn’t make it anyway, and talking myself out of the audition before I ever even tried.
And yet here was my 13 year old son, who had already learned a lesson that I’m still learning! How did that happen?
Mostly it is because he is an awesome kid. But I also think that part of it comes from living in a home where our kids have seen us set, make, and miss goals on a regular basis. From the time he was a baby, he has watched me set goals, work hard for them, reset them when I miss them, and celebrate when I get them. Here are three ways I have taught my kids that it’s okay to try and fail.
- Talk to your kids about the goal.
Too often I see parents set goals, but not involve the family. They don’t want the kids to be disappointed when the Disney land trip doesn’t happen. They don’t want them to be sad when they can’t deliver that new bike. They don’t want to make empty promises.
I get that! I’m not saying I love telling my kids I didn’t win. But there is a HUGE difference between an empty promise and a missed goal. With an empty promise, there wasn’t effort put into making it happen. With a goal, your kids see you working, trying and doing your best. With a missed goal, the reward doesn’t change, the timeline does. “Kids, we worked really hard together and we missed it this time. But I think we have learned a lot and if we set it again with as much focus, work and faith, I think we can do it.” It’s a VERY different conversation.
- Never fail alone.
I think one of our big fears with failure is failing alone. When I was earning my first career car in my direct sales goal we sat down our son, who was three at the time, and we talked about the family goal and how he could help. When I decided to give up sugar, I talked to my boys and asked them to support me in being accountable. (When I fell off the wagon, I totally had to hide it from them for a while. Don’t judge, I’m human.) When we took the family to Disneyland, we talked about it as a family and talked about what we would sacrifice to make the goal happen. When my oldest tried out for marching band this year, we talked about how the whole family would work together to support the goal.
This lets your kids know that they are always supported in their pursuits, their wins, and in their failures.
- Don’t skim over the emotion of the fail.
It feels better to win. It just does! When you miss a goal, don’t act like it is no big deal. Say, “You know, I’m really disappointed today. And I’m going to feel sorry for myself for the next 30 minutes. But then I’m going to celebrate the great things I have going on, and I’ll reset the goal.”
Too many adults don’t know how to process disappointment. They try to minimize it and pretend like it doesn’t matter. As a result, they take less risks because the failures stay with them longer. I’d rather just throw a 30 minute pity party and really WALLOW in my disappointment. Then I forgive myself and move forward. Teach your children how to process the emotion of the failure and they will be more quick to jump back in!
I see adults all the time who live a life they are only partially happy with because they fear the failure. Maybe it’s time to teach this powerful lesson to your kids. I bet you’ll learn a little in the process too!