When I first started thinking about writing a piece on arranging for our children’s success, I was confronted with a number of questions:
- What is success?
- Can we really arrange for our children’s success?
- Don’t we learn a lot from our failures. And on and on.
All very good questions!
Let me clarify that I’m not a behaviorist nor a pelagian, nor even a semi-pelagian, so I don’t believe that either environment, nor the right stimuli (positive or negative) or the appropriate praise or the perfect intentionality of parents in mentoring/modeling for their children can guarantee any expected results (success?). I don’t believe that if we just leave our kids alone without any instruction that they’ll learn to be the kind of people they ought to be. But I do believe that parents have God-given duties and responsibilities towards their children and that our children as they mature should embrace more and more responsibility for their own life and choices, and yes, successes and failures. After all we’re raising children to be responsible adults, aren’t we?
Yet, we all know good, successful kids with awful parents, don’t we? and vice versa ! But that’s usually the exception, because God has designed families so that parents DO have an influence on their children and should seek to arrange for their children’s success. This requires intentional thought, communication and planning.
Every family and parent needs to think about what success looks like for their children, especially when their children do not succeed, when they fail at a task, fail to demonstrate appropriate character, fail an exam, fail at any number of life skills or opportunities to succeed.
Handling defeat and failure gracefully is one aspect of success. Learning from mistakes and failure would also be an important aspect of success. Let’s go back to the 2 Questions we are all asking…and let’s rephrase them. When our children do not succeed or are not able to succeed in a task for which we are training/mentoring them, those children are still asking…
- Am I loved by my parent(s)?
- Am I loved even when I do not succeed? even when I fail to accomplish a goal, complete a task, learn a new skill, show godly character?
As parents we want to be imaging God’s unconditional love to our children. Our job as parents is to communicate clearly that “Yes!” they are loved whether they succeed or fail! Our job as parents is to show our children that we don’t love them more when they succeed than when they fail! Is that the way you parent? It’s a great way to arrange for their success.
How do we do that?
Well, it calls for the kind of wisdom that is received when we pray to God for help.
- First of all, we tell them, in words and with affectionate actions how much we love them, all the time, in as many ways as possible. As our children mature, we will communicate this differently to them, but we must communicate it persistently and deliberately. This is one way we arrange to succeed as parents…we plan to be intentional in communicating how much we love our children. A parent’s words have great power to encourage children and when spoken from the heart (genuinely) do not lose their power even when repeated 1 million times…a day!
- Second of all, help our children see and learn from our own failures and mistakes; then debrief those mistakes with them, so that our kids learn that life is an interesting combination of successes and failures and that every failure is an opportunity to learn something.
- Third…sometimes we show how much we love our children, by just forgetting about the failure! Drop it and move on! Stop training/trying the task or job again…just laugh it off. As parents, we may see that our child is too conscientious (a learned trait?) and persistent and needs to learn that it’s OK not to succeed, and that we don’t always have to keep trying things over and over until we succeed. It takes wisdom to know which ones to keep after and which ones to just forget about, for now, or forever.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…isn’t always wise advice, is it?
I remember helping Rona teach my girls to read. She did most of the heavy lifting with basic phonics, but when it came time to “squishing” the letters together so that they formed words to be read aloud and understood, I usually took over.
All our girls learned to “squish”, that is to read, at different ages. Some read at a very young age; one was really late to get things “squishing”. As the “squishing” instructor, I tried to arrange for their reading success. It was pretty clear when a child who knew all the phonics, including dipthongs and tripthongs just couldn’t put it all together, literally. So, we just dropped it for a month or so and would come back and try later. With one daughter it was over six months (maybe a year or more even!) before she enjoyed her first “squishing” success.
Since learning to read is not a moral issue or a matter of character, there was no sense of urgency. None whatsoever! What was urgent was communicating to that daughter that we loved her dearly and that “squishing” success had no effect on our love for and acceptance of her. No debriefing was needed, either, though Rona and I did try to make sure that the “squishing” lessons ocurred when the child was well rested, reasonably motivated and not overly tired.
Arranging for her “squishing” success meant taking our time and not pressuring her. It meant leaving VERY simple word books lying around the house so that if she wanted to learn it herself one day, she could. It also meant that it was HER success we were after, not ours as parents, not mine as the Squishing Instructor Extraordinaire of the Eastern Hemisphere!
God is good, and eventually all our girls learned to read and to enjoy books very much. But I’d like to think we’d love them no less if they were all functionally illiterate like their dog, whom we also loved dearly, and also trained, but that’s a different post, altogether….