One of the most difficult parts of parenting is watching your child hurt. Regardless of how old they are, your kids will always be your kids. And when they hurt, you hurt with them.
If we could somehow rescue them from the sting of failure, making mistakes, or anyone breaking their heart, we would. But part of parenting is walking through the heartache and disappointment with them, helping them navigate their way to the other side of it and become stronger because of it.
Whether we’re talking about being cut from the team or making a mistake with lasting consequences, we want to lay out some principles to help you lead your child back from failure.
1. Refuse to let a decision or season become your child’s identity
Danny likes to remind our kids that it’s not about getting everything right as it is about the trajectory of where your life is going. He actually draws out a little diagram for them, showing them how their habits impact their growth. Failure can be part of the journey as long as you get back up, dust yourself off, and keep plugging away at the little things that will enable you to overcome the challenge ahead of you.
For example, one of our kids was struggling in math a few years back. He began saying things like, “I’m horrible at math” and “I’m not as smart as the other kids.”
We continually corrected his statements with, “That’s not true. You’re just learning how to do math. It has nothing to do with how good or bad you are at it.” For most of the school year, Danny would spend the evenings re-teaching our son whatever they’d taught him in class that day, patiently going over and over it with him until he grasped the concepts. Now he’s at the top of his class in math.
More than wanting him to do well in school, we needed to help him understand that a bad grade or difficult challenge didn’t define him. He could learn and grow.
2. Speak life into your kids
When I was little, my parents hung a plaque in my room with the definition of my name. The funny thing is that it said my name (Jamie) means truthful when my name is actually a derivative of Jacob, which means deceiver.
Apparently, someone was trying to redeem the meaning. Which I’m thankful for because I stared at that plaque over and over again as a child until it was ingrained in me: “I tell the truth. It’s who I am.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed the same thing with my kids; the words Danny and I speak over them carry great weight. They believe them and they rise or fall according to what we say about them.
3. Help them dig into the WHY behind the WHAT
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Without a vision, people cast off restraint.” Meaning, if you don’t know the why behind the what then you’ll choose the path of least resistance, EVERY TIME.
My oldest son and I were just talking about this when it comes to how we’re eating these days. In January, we began changing our diet, cutting out sugar and processed foods as much as possible.
Some health concerns in our family had led us to study and understand food at a different level. Based on our new knowledge, we’ve made sacrifices that we would’ve had a hard time making otherwise.
A new vision has led us to restraint, which changed our trajectory, and is now producing healthy transformation in us.
Do your kids have a vision for:
Rules in your home
Dating/boundaries with sex
Priorities in your schedule
Growth in their character
4. Create clear expectations and consequences
When we’re helping our kids navigate through failure, we try to get as practical as possible. “Just try harder” is setting them up for repeat failure and can be demotivating.
If you’re not sure how to create practical steps to lead your kid forward, resource people who are. Ask the teacher, counselor, coach, or pastor for a track your kids can actually run on. Keep pressing in for clarity until you understand how to break it down into everyday habits that will change the trajectory and help your kids become an overcomer.
Then lay out the expectations AND the consequences of not following through with them. You don't need to get angry or belittle them if they don’t live up to the expectations, but don’t waiver on the consequences. If you established no friends come over unless the expectations are met, don’t back down.
One of the most damaging things that could happen is your kid constantly being sheltered from experiencing clear consequences. Like it or not, we reap what we sow. If they don't learn that principle when they’re young, they will have to learn it the hard way…through a failed relationship or financial crisis or losing an opportunity they really wanted.
The consequences only get bigger as life unfolds. So you’re actually doing them a favor by helping them understand this principle early in life (when the consequences are relatively small).
5. Don’t pretend like you know everything
Be willing to admit when you don’t have the answers, made a mistake, or need help. All the words in the world won't ever compare to the example you set for your kid. Let them see you humbling yourself and doing whatever it takes to grow in your ability to lead them well.
One of our kid’s favorite things in life is when Danny and I tell them about mistakes we made or things we struggled with when we were younger (with discretion, of course). It helps them feel like they’re not alone and see how they can become overcomes themselves.
6. Change their environment
Depending on how old your kids are, your ability to influence their friendships might be limited. Don’t let that stop you from creatively and prayerfully steering your kids toward people who are going to help them succeed.
At Sun City Church, we work hard to not just get kids involved with small groups but serving on various teams at a young age. Why? Because we understand that they need to rub shoulders with other people who are committed to making a difference, both young and old.
Our kids love going to church, not just because their friends are there but because they love serving. They’re leading worship teams, helping in pre-school classes, learning how to run sound and media. Great friendships are being born through it and shaping the way our kids see their future.
7. Help them find themselves in a redemptive storyline
Stories shape our kid’s view of themselves. In our home, we’re constantly looking for stories of great triumph in the face of difficulty. We talk about characters from the Bible, other people we know who’ve come back from big setbacks, and we even write our own.
I love stories, so it’s somewhat natural for me to do this. Maybe it’s not for you, but I would suggest taking some time to think about the messages your kids are hearing in their favorite movies or songs. Those underlying stories are shaping the way they see things and it’s worth talking about.
As Christ followers, we also spend a lot of time talking about Jesus’ story of taking on sin and death on our behalf, how He came back from the grave to experience the greatest triumph we know of, and the invitation He’s extended for us to participate in that victory.
Let me take a second to share a brief personal story about how this affected us in our home:
Our 9-year-old son was battling anxiety after he experienced his older brother having a seizure. He was jumping at shadows, afraid that something tragic was going to happen. It all came to a head one night when his younger sister decided to sleep on the floor in his room. Around midnight, she twitched in her sleep, sending Hudson into a panic.
His shouting woke up the entire house.
Danny and I assured him, prayed with him, and held him until he fell asleep. But honestly, we had no idea what else to do.
The next day, we were at church together and there was a moment for prayer and reflection about what Christ had sacrificed for us. Tears streamed down Hudson’s cheeks as he pulled Danny and I over to pray with him.
“I feel like God told me I don’t have to be afraid anymore. He’s not going to leave me.”
Believe me, all of us wept as we prayed together (it was good we had the rest of team to finish the service for us).
His anxiety was gone after that. Maybe it wasn't failure, but Hudson found himself in a redemptive storyline and let God pull him back from the edge. I’m still in awe over it.
8. Be patient and don’t give up
Depending on what the failure looks like, it can take time for your kid to own their responsibility in it and be willing to grow through it. Stay consistent, saying and doing the things that point them toward the road of overcoming.
You might need a support system to help you. Have people around you that are praying for you and your kid, encouraging you when you need it, and not letting you give up.
I know it's easy to feel like prayer is the cliche answer but I'm convinced God knows our kids better than we do. He understands the keys to unlock their heart and help them move forward.
Be specific in your prayer. List out the obstacles your kid is facing and continually bring them before God.
If you are feeling disappointed or hurt because of your kid's failure, it's critical to the health of your relationship that you're talking about it with God. The situation might be messy and you need to let God untangle it with you, followed by wise counsel from people you trust.
Lastly, I just want to tell you that your kid is lucky to have you as a parent. It's a tough job, relentlessly loving and fighting for them. While it would be easy to compare ourselves to each other, it wouldn't be fair. Let go of being perfect and just resolve to continually get better at this parenting thing.
A great resource for you and your kid might be the sermon series we're currently in as a church. It's called The Comeback and we're looking at stories from the Bible of people who came back from seemingly impossible situations by the grace of God. Join us this Sunday at 9:15 or 11:00 am.