Teach Kids How to Succeed -- and Fail

by Kathryn Sansone

Children are under tremendous pressure to succeed, and parents feel tremendous pressure to help them succeed. But what does success mean? Going to the right school? Getting straight As in all subjects? Winning an athletic scholarship? Sure, those are laudable goals, but they may not necessarily mean your child will be happy or feel successful. To me, success means helping our children understand who they are, giving them opportunities to discover what interests them, and guiding and supporting their attempts to use their gifts to their fullest potential.

That said, parents need to keep in mind that all children are different. They come into this world with their own unique personality, temperament, skills, and interests. Parents must help each individual child find his or her own interests.

We can also help our kids become self-reliant by helping them to learn to make decisions for themselves. Heaven knows, we are not going to be around to do things for them forever. Self-reliance is the umbrella that enables children to know themselves, accept themselves (i.e., their strengths and weaknesses), and develop the confidence to make the best possible choices for themselves. Learning to make sound decisions means giving your kids the opportunity to try new things, allowing them some freedom to make their own choices, and helping them accept and learn from their mistakes.

Teaching kids to be self-reliant also involves helping them learn to accept life's inevitable losses as well as wins. When our kids win or succeed we always give them a hearty congratulations and let them know how proud we are of them. And while we praise their performance, we also make sure they know we are really proud of them for trying so hard and winning. When they don't succeed, we do the very same thing: We give them a big hug and a warm congratulations and we let them know that we value them, their hard work, and their great sportsmanship. We look for them to do their best -- win or lose -- and use the gifts God gave them to their fullest potential.

Share Your Own Losses

One of the best ways we can teach our kids the value of success and failure is by sharing our own successes and failures. When my kids lose an important game or do poorly on a test, I recall the story of when I lost in an important tennis match. After getting into the finals of a championship, my doubles partner and I lost. Was I disappointed, my kids want to know? Of course. But it didn't stop me from continuing to enjoy tennis and play in matches.

Kids need to know that failing -- or not winning -- is part of playing the game. We all lose some and win some. Kids need to become comfortable with both the idea and the reality that practice is necessary, that we are not perfect, and that there is always another chance to get another, perhaps better, result.

Kathryn Sansone, author of Woman First, Family Always: Real-life Wisdom from a Mother of Ten, has been widely featured in the media, including network television shows and national magazines. She has worked as a classroom teacher and was recently recruited by America Online to serve as a real-life Chief of Everything Officer (CEO) for the company's Life Management program. Sansone, her husband, Jim, and their ten children (ranging in age from eight months to eighteen years) live in St. Louis, Missouri.

Copyright © Kathryn Sansome. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.