It was Will Rogers who observed, “good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Having lived to see the age of 60, I will give his assertion and conclusion a hearty AMEN!
We don’t usually think about teaching children “how to” fail. We should. Let me suggest this a necessary and essential part of child training. Sound crazy? I know, but hang in here for a bit longer and see if I can convince you.
Immature folks, of any age, respond to life viscerally and immediately. They don’t ask questions about consequences: short or long term. Their unspoken motto is “if it feels good, do it.” Young children are driven by an inner compulsion to satisfy the “ME” in their life. What makes “ME” happy? How can “ME” get what I want right now? One of the components for succeeding in life is overcoming the “ME.” Self-centeredness is a central element to unhappiness, broken relationships, and failure.
Learning to overcome failure and bad decisions is an essential part of maturing and growing up. It is a learned behavior. Not learning how to deal with failure and bad judgment can be fatal. Teach them how to fail successfully. How you may ask? By teaching them that failure, by sin, bad judgment, and mistakes are an expected and normal part of human life (see James 3:2), not the defining factor of their life, and must be embraced head-on.
All of us fail: repeatedly. Getting over the fear of failure is essential. If fear of failure is not conquered it can become paralyzing. In high school I was forced (forced I tell you!) to take a speech class, which included giving speeches. Imagine that! I was so frightened at the prospect of standing up before a group and talking I actually skipped school on the day I was scheduled to give the short speech! During my college years I took a sales job with a local insurance agency. Having completed all the training I was faced with the first day of actually doing the job. It began with “cold call” phone calls. I was frozen with fear. The prospect of calling unknown folks trying to set an appointment was paralyzing. Children must learn early to face failure and their fears and be given the skills to overcome them.
They’re going to get in over their head one day. We all do. They’re going to make bad decisions. We all do. Passionate, enthusiastic children must learn to subject their passion and enthusiasm to patient, mature reflection. Teach them to embrace both wise caution, and prudent passion. Timid and fearful children must learn to not allow their timidity and fear to shape their decisions. Creating opportunities early to face these weaknesses must begin early and be faced over and again until they are conquered.
Teach your child to seek and follow counsel. That can begin as simply as telling your child, “let’s talk about this.” Are they angry? Let’s talk. Do they feel unfairly treated? Let’s talk. Has someone taken advantage of them? Let’s talk. Tell your child what you see in them (and the circumstance) and what is the wise thing to do. Also, let them see you seek and follow counsel. When was the last time you asked your parents, pastors, or a trusted friend about a decision before making it? Remember, this is a process that will occur over and over again. Be patient. Be persistent. Be observant! Learn your child strengths and weaknesses. They have blindspots. Help them to see what they don’t. Teach them to rely on the insights of wise counselors. In doing that you will also teach them to be accountable to others and that the choices they make are never made in isolation. Our choices always affect others. Always.