Somehow in our culture, we have developed the belief that protecting our kids from discomfort, and the pain of disappointment, is the way to be effective parents. There is a misconception that if children suffer any discomfort growing up, there’s something you’re doing wrong as a parent. Although it can be tempting to help a child whenever they’re struggling, rescuing them from distress will reinforce to them that they’re helpless.
Kids need to build up a tolerance for discomfort, an emotional callous if you will. Building this tolerance for discomfort is important because discomfort is a big part of life. We all have to learn to sit in traffic, to lose a game, or to get passed over for a promotion. Life is naturally full of failures, even for the most successful people. Teach your kids healthy coping strategies to deal with discomfort, and coach them as they practice. With your support, they can learn that uncomfortable emotions are tolerable.
Embracing a ‘growth mindset’ permits parents and kids to reframe mistakes as learning opportunities and believe that they can get better with effort and perseverance – they may not be perfect, but they can always find ways to develop their skills and grow. Learning from our setbacks, mistakes, and failures, developing the perseverance and grit to keep going and having the resilience to try again if something hasn’t worked are all attributes we want to instil in our kids.
Having the opportunity to try new things and make mistakes that they learn from shows kids that they can overcome challenges they may face in the future. This encourages them to develop an optimistic mindset and feel hopeful about the future. There is one important caveat, though, and that is to make sure the challenges your kids face are developmentally appropriate, as too much challenge can cause them to feel anxious and fear failure.
When we talk with our children about how failing is a natural opportunity to learn that helps them identify what they can’t do, or don’t know, yet. It is simply their first attempt in learning and it’s ok to have lots of attempts before they get it right. If things have not gone so well always acknowledge what they did well before you talk with them about what they could do differently next time. Encourage them to reflect on what happened and ask themselves the following questions: “What went well?” “What would I change if I could?” and work with them to identify how they can develop a plan of action to influence events in the future, this will give them the confidence to try again.
Allowing our kids to make mistakes and feel discomfort can feel very uncomfortable. Watching our children make mistakes is painful – whether they’re falling out with friends or off a jungle gym, our instinct is to protect them. It is hard to watch them feel uncomfortable and upset. Yet they learn important lessons from making mistakes and gain confidence when they bounce back from them. We need to teach our children that mistakes are part of the learning process, so they don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about getting something wrong. When they are allowed to struggle and sometimes fail, we allow them to develop important social and emotional skills. Trying something and making a mistake or failing is part of growing and learning. Children who don’t develop healthy coping strategies when they make a mistake or fail are much more vulnerable to developing anxiety. Of course, we don’t risk their safety or not respond when what is needed most is reassurance. However, our role should be to support and guide, not fix everything for them.