Let Your Kids Lose a Little

Written by Ibarto Botes

No, that's not a typo in the title. The topic I want to address pertains to allowing children to fail, not unleashing them! This might go against every parental instinct you have, but letting your kids lose from time to time might be one of the best things that you can do for them.

Recently I got our three year old son to blow his nose for the first time. For months now it's been a journey of motivation and assurance and incentives, and for me, recurring agonising failure! Over the years of my life not once has it occurred to me that someone had to teach me to blow my nose. And here I am, having witnessed my son fail dozens of times, motivating him to "try again". Well it finally payed off. Me calling out an affirmative "What a champion!" and giving a celebratory high five might seem insignificant, but what has been learned in the process is worth gold.

If you are blessed enough to be a parent of kids two years and older you know the struggle. Let's call it the "War for Independence" — emphasis being on WAR. On the one hand you increasingly find yourself in a situation where your toddler insists on "doing it themself." Whether it be brushing their teeth, drawing a picture or the dreaded dinner dash, suddenly the most menial tasks become power struggles. On the flip side, and usually when they're slightly older, the words, "I can't do it" seem to take up half of their vocabulary. Where there used to be a determination to prove their independence, the sheer effort of making their own bed often proves to be a task of impossible difficulty and unfathomable complication. These are the early stages of their lifelong struggle with success and failure, victory and defeat, expectations and reality. And dear parent, your attitude and approach to these aspects of life have a far greater influence upon your children than you might realise.

Despite differences in personalities, circumstances and even gender every child must learn to navigate the uncharted fjords of failure. More than any other phase of life it is during the formative years that our attitudes towards failure develops. I think of those early years as the sowing season. That which is sown into their lives early on will determine what will spring up in later years. And that which is allowed to grow unchecked will also produce a harvest. For example, the rebellion that a teenager exudes is the fruit of bad seeds that have been growing for years. And ultimately it is us as parents who have the greatest influence upon what seed falls on the fertile soil of our children's souls.

Allow me to identity three kinds of parents, each reaping a different harvest in the kinds of people they raise.

1.The Helicopter Parent
As the name suggests this is the parent who's always hovering around their kids. This parent makes it their no. 1 priority to assist their child in everything, and hence ensuring success and safety. Such a parent is characterised by unhealthy over-involvement in their kid's life, often well into adulthood. The result is reflected in much of the traits now visible in Millennials — a generation that often struggles with responsibility and seems unprepared for the reality outside of their parents' home. Because they were shielded from the consequences of their actions they are out of touch with real-world principles like cause and effect. Many were told their entire lives that they are special leading them to struggle dealing with failure and loss. In effect, if we never allow our children to fail, we are raising arrogant, immature adults with unrealistic expectations, illusions of grandeur, and in extreme cases, narcissistic personality disorder. We produce mamma's boys and daddy's girls who struggle to find their feet outside of their parents' homes and wallets. Because success is all they know they are completely unprepared to deal with failure. In fact, failing even at insignificant tasks can be so traumatic that they are completely derailed by it. And invariably failure WILL come! It's only a matter of time.

2.The Satellite Parent
If the first kind of parent is too close too often, this one is the exact opposite. Like a satellite they feature on their child's radar from time to time, but usually at a distance. This parent has the philosophy when it comes to raising children that the only way to learn is the hard way. It is taking the idea that failure is healthy a few notches too far, thus creating an environment of cold apathy in the home. It's important to note that a parent doesn't have to physically be distant for them to be absent in their child's life. And it is especially during periods where developing human beings are most vulnerable to giving up that the presence of an involved parent makes all the difference. You see, failure is an effective catalyst of learning, but what's even more effective is instilling the tenancy to get up and push through despite opposition and hardship. There comes a time in every child's life when they are faced with a task or challenge that, in their own eyes at least, they are unable to overcome. They will continue to believe that old lie that they're not good enough perpetually unless there is someone present at that very moment who believes in them and makes sure they know it. Consequently generations live out their lives possessing immense untapped potential that they take with them to the grave, all because when they needed their assurance their parents weren't there, and when they need their affirmation their parents wouldn't give it.

3.The Balanced Parent
You've probably figured out by now that the two aforementioned types of parents are at opposite poles of the scale, and that a healthy combination of the two is the answer. Life necessitates that we parents hover a little sometimes, while at other times a bit of distance is exactly what our kids need to progress to the next level of maturity. Hence letting them lose... but only a little. The balanced parent is secure enough in their identity that they can resist the urge of constantly imposing their will upon their kids. Likewise they are intentional in maintaining healthy relationships with their children. They grow with their children in maintaining the healthy balance between nurture and nature. The nature of a toddler and a teen differs vastly, as do the challenges they face and their attitudes towards said challenges. In a healthy home parents have mastered the skill of adapting their style and intensity of nurturing their children to the season they're in. In other words, they don't baby their 24 year old son, nor do they let their 4 year old daughter fend for herself in a cruel world.

So what can we do to help us maintain a balance? How should we know when to swoop in and when to take off? The first and by far the most important thing you can do to be a successful parent is to walk in a relationship with God the Father. Whether you're a dad or a mom, our Heavenly Father demonstrates parenting in its highest form. I propose that without a committed, loving relationship with the Father there's really no hope of your child ever having in you the kind of parent that they deserve. The second thing, which is enabled by the first, is a healthy marriage. When it comes to keeping the balance two is definitely better than one. With the Lord first and your spouse second you'll be able to build the kind of home that rears children of character, confidence and competence. That means everyone is loved and appreciated in the home, but that there can be no doubt in your allegiance to your spouse. It's a simple equation really. Godly individuals produce Godly marriages, that produce Godly children and families, that make for a Godly society.

If you fall into the first category I want to encourage to take a step back. Your child will not feel rejected nor abandoned by you if you'd allow them to struggle a little through tasks and events in life. Instead of preventing failure and disappointment, coach them though it by speaking about the emotions they feel. Cultivate a healthy outlook on other people and themselves, recognising and appreciating strengths while being honest about non-strengths. Above all model to them the revelation of God's love that gives all people equal value, grace and identity.

If you identify with the second category, it's time to rethink your parental strategy and priorities. Put down the phone, switch off the TV and be present in your kids' life. They will grow through struggles and failures, but if defeat is all they know they might never risk coming out of their shells. Help them identity and deal with the emotions they're facing. If nothing else learn how to express love and affirmation to the children you're so blessed to have. When Jesus came out of the Jordan, the Father proclaimed (and in a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire crowd), "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased!" Jesus was affirmed by His Father, why should our kids not receive the same affirmation from us?

Failure is a part of life, and although nobody particularly enjoys the experience, it remains one of the most effective ways we learn. Failure keeps us humble and depending on God. It helps us see our strengths without being blind to our weaknesses. It enables a healthy appreciation for other people and their abilities whilst simultaneously not feeling threatened by them. I grew up with the saying in our house, "Probeer is die beste geweer!" We've added, "en dis hoe ons leer!" for our sons, to remind us all that "To try is the most effective weapon and the best way to learn."
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