Failing Their Way To Success: Building Esteem In Children

by Marnie Macauley July 30, 2018


Portrait of a happy multiethnic children holding books and wearing backpack at primary school. Schoolboys and cute girls in a row holding notebook and looking at camera. Portrait of a elementary child smiling.

Shalom, San Diegans: Who among us doesn’t know that Jews value education, learning and success? We’ve always believed in “pisks” over fists (unless you’re with the IDF who use both).  So why am I kvetching? Here’s why. In today’s world, “success” means starting at toddlerhood, turning our little ones into overworked, overscheduled, driven Alphas. And later, how often have we heard a parent say: “Only a 99 on the test? What happened to the other point?” Or, “Don’t worry darling, Daddy will call over his engineer to build you a model of the solar system!”

More, we’ve set the emotional temperature on danger. If our kinder is a step ahead or behind in preschool, in come the shrinks, the diagnoses, the labels – and the meds: ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s. While of course these conditions must be treated if real, could half the population under age 10 even have them? I wonder.

So in our issue on education, I wanted to talk about a controversial topic: Letting our Children Fail Their Way to Real Success.

For those of you who haven’t yet fainted, as an advice maven and a mom, I’ve had to ask myself, “What is true success and how is it achieved?”

My answer? By learning how to manage failure. Our mistakes and missteps are our greatest teachers.

My emails are filled with letters like these.  Sound familiar?

Dear Marnie: My husband lets our son, age six, win at sports to build up his ego …

Hi Marnie: I believe in sitting over my children (seven and nine) while they do homework.   As a Mom, I feel it’s my job to fix their mistakes.

Marnie: My four-year-old is enrolled in preschool. She doesn’t like some of the other children in her class and wants to drop out. I’m worried her ego will suffer and feel we should let her change schools …

Failing Their Way To Success:
Building Esteem In Children

All are examples of letters from exceptional parents.  Exceptionally Loving.  Exceptionally Caring.  Exceptionally Involved.  But, continuing as they are, these parents will likely need to be “involved” till their little mamalas are on Medicare.  Let’s revisit each of the above scenes down the road:

1. My husband lets our son win at sports: Picture it.  David’s now 10 and expects to be star pitcher in his local Little League. The coach disagrees.  Sonny’s only a “star” on Dad’s playing fields.  Sonny dumps Little League and returns to “Dad’s”  – where the world does what he wants it to do; where the world sees him as he wants to be seen.

2. It’s my job to fix their mistakes.  Picture it.  High school.  An English project’s due.  But these teens have spent their nights in chat and game rooms. They flunk. One “but-buts” with “It’s the teacher’s fault!”  The other’s rages:  “It’s your fault!  Always hanging over me – criticizing!”

3. I think we should let her change schools.  Picture it.  The little angel’s about to enter the exciting world of middle school or is she?  “I don’t know anybody!” she wails.  Uh-oh, I’m sick again!  IF YOU SEND ME I’LL … ”

How do these early scenes turn into manipulative scenes, with parents, doubling as punching bags, still defending, protecting, fixing, (and covering) for their kinder who face challenges with scorn?

The Myth of Self-Esteem.

“But all I want is for Michael to feel good about himself and confident!”  That line is the quintessential parental poop for MO’s that rosy up Michael’s world. In fact, all that glare spins these very goals 180.

True esteem and real confidence demand the positive face of truth. Children who see themselves as competent and worthy do so because they have been taught to persevere in a world that isn’t all smiles, yet continue to love themselves –  including and despite – imperfections and shortcomings.

MARNIE’S RULE: Children Learn More From Trying, Failing, Then Trying Again, Then They Do From Being Handed Success.

Getting It!

The Positives of “Failure” as a Strategy for Building Real Esteem in Children

Failure gives children the true scoop on themselves and the world.  Of course we protect them from oncoming tractors and taking on speed bumps. But when we rush in to make things too easy, we lie to them and let them lie to themselves about who they are and what they need to work on.

Tip: Quit Fixing, Bailing And Doing For Them.


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