Not learning to tolerate failure leaves kids vulnerable to anxiety. It leads to meltdowns when the inevitable failure does occur, whether it happens in preschool or college. And perhaps even more important, it can make kids give up trying—or trying new things.
That’s why Michael Jordan, one of the world’s greatest athletes, has spent years preaching the importance of losing. Jordan has spoken extensively about how perseverance and resilience in the face of challenges on and off the court are what have made him a winner.
Unfortunately, as the world puts increased pressure on kids to be winners, and parents feel compelled to enable them in every way possible, we’re seeing more and more kids who become distraught over even the smallest misstep.
Take Sara’s son John, who started taking piano lessons at 6. “Every time he played a wrong note he would pick up the music booklet and hit himself on the head with it!” she says. “His piano teacher said she’d never seen a kid who was so hard on himself. I told him when he made a mistake to treat himself the way he’d treat his younger cousin, that no one can learn if someone’s being mean to them, and that he wasn’t allowed to be mean to himself.”
When Alicia’s daughter Sara was 14, she became so distraught over not getting into a selective high school, while friends did, she began to self-harm. “It was so terrible: the pressure, the disappointment,” says Alicia.
Clearly, distress or frustration tolerance is an important life skill to master. When it comes to school, “the ability to tolerate imperfection—that something is not going exactly your way—is oftentimes more important to learn than whatever the content subject is,” says Dr. Amanda Mintzer, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “Building that skill set is necessary for kids to be able to become more independent and succeed in future endeavors, whether it’s personal goals, academic goals, or just learning how to effectively deal with other people.”
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