Each generation is conditioned to understand success and failure from a young age. They are taught through the examples of adult role models and through the feedback they receive regarding their own behavior. How a child learns to define success will ultimately play a large role in how far they will stretch themselves to achieve it. Therefore, it is very important for parents to be aware of this defining process and how to cultivate a healthy view of success and failure for your child. There are a few key lessons every child needs to learn in order to achieve a healthy definition of success.
Lesson 1: Not every good attempt equals success
Our politically correct society has been prone to awarding effort over results in the last few years. And while that is occasionally how life works, it is by far not the norm that these children will experience as adults. After all, it’s the advertising agent with the catchiest logo that gets the promotion and the realtor with the best pitch and showcasing skills that often lands the deal. It’s a naturally competitive world that rewards based on results, not effort, so why should we teach our children that the world is all about trying hard instead of teaching them problem-solving methods to adjust their approach and get results?! Many people have supported the effort-based reward system over results-based rewards in consideration of nurturing the self-concept and self-esteem. However research has shown that often this approach actually undermines the development of these self-defining processes. Children who earn something just for showing up tend to be less motivated to truly live up to their potential, and have lower expectations of themselves, which sets them up for failure later in life. Additionally, children who are talented and work hard, only to receive the same reward another child who sits on the bench and is only there because mom and dad forced him/her to join a sport is less likely to maintain their momentum.
Lesson 2: Less than optimum results are an opportunity
Children need to learn the difference between success and failure, but they also need to learn the opportunity that exists in failure. This can easily be taught in those distressing moments when your child is upset about a performance through facilitating a conversation of what could be done differently next time. Allow them to suggest a few items and if you feel the need to add to their list, try to do it in a non-condescending manner (a.k.a. no reminding them of the time when you told them to practice and they played video games for hours instead). Make sure you are encouraging them towards their goal and supporting them as they explore how to adjust their approach to achieve better success. Using this approach can allow your child to put their “failed” performance behind them and focus instead on how to overcome the failure to improve at the next opportunity. This mindset, if well established from a young age, can help to prevent the fear of failure which freezes so many of us as adults from attaining all that we are capable of achieving.
Lesson 3: Beat your personal best even if your personal best isn’t the best there is
It should be noted that of course not every child has the potential to perform at the top of their class, and success or failure should not be dictated by how the individual holds up against other people. Instead encourage your child to improve personal performance above all else as the practice of self-discipline and beating their personal best will prepare them for life across a wide variety of contexts. Learning to work on personal performance will also allow them to feel proud of their performance even if their team loses. It shifts their focus towards the idea of personal responsibility for their own actions, which will help them become well-adjusted persons later in life, responsible for their own reactions to situations instead of allowing themselves to be victimized. This distinction will not only help them prepare for the workplace, but for life when circumstances are unfair.
Lesson 4: Teach your child how to think positively
I’m sure you have heard the old adage “if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”. It may be corny, but it’s true! If your child is convinced they can achieve success, they will. On the flip side, if they are convinced they cannot, their behavior will follow their beliefs. So you have to set the example of helping them set achievable goals and believe that they can and will achieve them. You need to be their number one fan, even when they face set-backs. If they have a less than stellar performance, it’s up to you to be honest about their performance, but remind them that you KNOW they can do better next time. After all, when a parent loses faith in their child, how is their child supposed to stay positive?
Lesson 5: Celebrate success, then set the bar higher
This is a lesson that is as much for the parents as it is the children. It is so easy to get caught up in improving yourself or encouraging your child to be the best they can be that we forget to celebrate successes. If your child’s team loses the game but he or she hits 3 homeruns, celebrate that! Every personal success should be celebrated. Even a small “you did great today!” is enough to encourage and celebrate with your child. Give them time to absorb that success feeling and after a bit, ask the probing question – “what’s next?” After all, it’s your job to help them keep aiming for more, believing every step of the way that they are capable of more!
If your child can learn these key lessons, he or she will be set up not just to learn how to succeed in little league or in the classroom, but they will learn how to succeed at life. They will learn how to problem-solve performance problems in every area of their life, staying positive and always striving to beat their personal best!