Quickly babies learn that if they are hungry, with a bit of crying, someone will provide nutrition. As they grow and develop, they promptly refine what response they need to give to resolve what is causing their unhappiness.

The child is beginning to create conflict resolution skills. Yet when they reach a certain point, we as adults often step in and “fix” situations so our children don’t become frustrated and have a meltdown causing us possible embarrassment. Our problem-solving skills of avoiding a temper tantrum stop the child from developing this life skill of self-evaluation and resolution. Everyone being a winner does not help our children succeed in dealing with life disappointments independently.

It does teach them that adults will fix things, so they are happy. The older the child gets, the harder it becomes to change those behaviors. Starting young and teaching them how to deal with disappointments and evaluating how they might avoid the situation next time will serve them the rest of their lives.

Taking the time to teach your children how to deal with loss or failure and not blame is a complex skill they will continue to refine all their life. At some point, you or they will have to deal with failure or loss. Sooner is better than later. Stepping back and helping them evaluate why they lost or failed is that life-impacting teaching moment.

Asking them, “What could you do next time?” teaches them what they need to do to have success. It is much more challenging than it seems, but the results will have rewards beyond belief. It’s a process and takes multiple situations to refine the understanding that failure or loss is actually learning.

As adults, how we deal with the failure of a situation models how our children respond when they experience a loss or failure. Most of us have gone to a school’s science fair and observed the students’ projects. The student who learns the most if handled correctly often is the one with the sad-looking cardboard box with notebook paper notes and drawing taped on the box if handled correctly. This child was placed into the natural process of evaluating their project against others.

Therefore, learning to see what others did, they understand adjustments they might try their next project. This student now learns the process of assessing a situation to better the result next time. The more often we allow a child to experience this process, the more their abilities will be enhanced, and they will use these abilities daily.

Timing can be crucial. The night of the science fair when they see no ribbon is the best time to evaluate things. There is a natural process of learning when dealing with loss or failure. The absolute worst thing you can do is push the loss or failure onto someone else or something else.

Later, spend time to reassure your child that you are proud of them and ask them what they noticed about other science projects and what they might do differently next time. Life learning occurs when we allow the child to evaluate a situation and make life adjustments to prevent replaying the previous experience. Life learning also happens when participating in sports — asking, “What might you try next time to make things better,” cause the child to start the thinking process.

It’s easy to blame others when things don’t go as planned. The skill of self-evaluation over what the child might change next time activates the thinking process in the child. However, blame won’t increase the child’s ability to evaluate and improve their skills or change the result.

Looking for ways to acknowledge our childrens’ frustration and learn how to deal with loss or failure is accomplished through questioning as a way of evaluation. Asking questions such as: “What do you think happened?” “What should we do differently next time?” helps build their understanding of evaluating and taking charge of situations in a healthy way.

Loss and failure are a part of life, yet we can control how we deal with it and make things better for ourselves and others.

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Scott Smith, doctor of education, is a 40-plus year Umatilla County educator and serves on the Decoding Dyslexia Oregon board as its parent/teacher liaison.

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