Saturday, 1 October 2011

Allowing your child to fail in order for them to succeed

I am not a competitive person. We often play board games or the Wii in our family and I really don’t like the rivalry between my girls and their dad. It makes me squirm as they are constantly trying to out think each other and physically out do each other. I tend to deliberately loose in these games because competition makes me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t like how it makes people act, often in a ugly smug way; in a way that proudly says ‘I am better than you’. I can understand the need for competition at times, when applying for a job or running in a competitive race. But I also see the need for humility in competitive situations.

I have recently hit a parenting brick wall, quite hard and it hurts, a lot. Molly has set her heart on studying medicine at university when she finishes her A Levels. Now had this been any other degree course I would have been really calm and excited about it because she is very capable of getting the grades she needs. However, for places to study medicine there is a lot of competition. You don’t just need to get the grades at A level, you have to go through interviews, tests, have had lots of relevant work experience and have written it all up and lots of other stuff – basically you have to out do everyone else applying for that place at University – it’s a competition and there is every chance of failure in any competition!

She seems really cool about it, as does my husband. But I am freaking out, firstly because I didn’t go to university so this is all an unknown to me, secondly because of my dislike of competition and thirdly because I can see that there is nothing I can do to help her in this. This is the first time I am unable to help her attain one of her life’s goals and I am scared. My little girl has to do it on her own. Oh my gosh, what if she fails!

I know as parents we should be allowing our children to fail in order for them to succeed. Thinking about it I realise we have been doing this bit by bit all through their lives. Like when we removed the stair gate from the stairs in order for them to learn how to go up and down the stairs safely by themselves, there were a few accidents, but they soon learnt that they needed to hold on. When we showed them how to get to school on the bus and then allowed them to go on their own without us watching over them, they haven’t got lost yet and have since explored many different bus routes home! Or even recently when we allowed both of them to set their own revision timetables for exams and they did a good job but it could have easily gone the other way.

I guess it is about encouraging them to be proud of themselves for what they have achieved for themselves, not just knowing that we are proud of them. Giving them the chance to feel uncomfortable in certain circumstances in order them to build up a tolerance for discomfort and learn how to deal with it. Teaching them how to be responsible for themselves and the choices they make, whether they fail or succeed. Life isn’t all good stuff. I know they have both made bad choices and learn from them which is great, but I have to be real and know there is a lot more of that to come. I don’t want to see my girls fail, but failure is good, it can teach us a lot of things about ourselves.

As I said Molly seems to be quite laid back about this situation, but for me this university place represents Molly’s future hopes and dreams and it all feels so overwhelming to me. I know I need to get over myself and just do what I do best, love her to bits and be there for her if she does fall down.

The world is a very competitive place my beautiful girls, go for it, Dad and I will always be there for you, cheering you on and loving you.