Overcoming Failure Builds Character

I remember the first time I saw bumpers being used at the bowling alley.  You’ve seen them; the walls that go up to protect the ball from going in the gutter.  I have to admit, I was a bit outraged.  Being somewhat competitive, I thought that it was “cheating”.  That the bowler was not really earning the score they were getting, learning any skill or feeling a true sense of accomplishment.  Maybe it was silly to react to something so trivial, since the kids were having a good time playing and knocking down the pins, but it still didn’t sit well with me.  After all, what is so terrible about the ball going in the gutter?  Won’t it just teach children to learn to bowl and feel a sense of accomplishment when they do knock down the pins?  I also think the bumpers didn’t sit well with me because it gives the message that we don’t trust our children to accomplish anything on their own.  Okay, I will move on from the bowling alley bumpers, but it got me thinking about the bigger picture and how today’s children are protected from so many life experiences that will help them to grow and become resilient adults. 

It is natural to want to protect our children and make their lives as comfortable as possible, but maybe a little discomfort could be to their advantage.  Paul Tough, in his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, notes “we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small.  And yet, we know – on some level at least – that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can”. 

As parents, we of course have the best of intentions, and operate from a place of love, but we may need to take a step back and let our children take on challenges and let the chips fall where they may.  Working towards a goal, and earning the reward (especially when it is challenging) teaches perseverance and the courage to try something new.  It builds character and teaches self-reliance for the next obstacle that may arise.  I am constantly encountering situations where I have the urge to take care of things for my children.  To make sure they do not experience any discomfort or upset.  Do I correct the homework… tell the coach to give my son more playing time… speak to the kid on the bus who is name calling?  And then I take a step back and realize that there is no problem to fix.  My son is checking his answers with the teacher and learning from his mistakes.  The coach is learning more about my other son’s abilities on the field and is giving him more time as the season progresses.  My daughter has spoken up for herself and is now friendly with the student that was name calling.  When equipped with the right tools, they are capable of working things through and trusting themselves to do so.  I’m sure I will be faced with trickier situations that may require me to step in and advocate for my children, but hopefully I will have the awareness to guide them as best I can, and then have faith in them to overcome any obstacle.