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What do you do when your daughter fails? How frustrated do you get at her struggles and missteps? Do you stay calm and focus on the lesson to be learned or do you blow a gasket? The answer to these questions is found in another question: What is your perspective on failure?

Success is not forever, and failure isn’t fatal. Don Shula

I get it. Long term failure is a serious concern.  In the big picture of life, I do not want my daughters to fail either. The key is “big picture”. We must constantly remind ourselves that small failures now will lead to big successes later. We must work hard to keep our daughters struggles in the proper perspective.

It is natural for parents to believe that allowing our kids to fail will increase the likelihood they will continue to be failures in life. We all share the fear of having our 32 year old daughter still living in her bedroom at our house. Single and unemployed.

I do not have data or evidence to support this, but my personal feeling is many of those 32 year olds still living at home are doing so because the real world smacked them in the face.  They failed for the first time and didn’t know how to react. Their only option was to move back home.

When I was 13 or 14, my mom very clearly told me I was moving out after high school graduation. She told me she did not care if I was headed off to college, joining the military, or starting on my first real job. Either way, I was moving out.

Now dads, let me take a side note here to give you a bit of advice. Don’t have this conversation with your 7 year old daughter. Believe me, I doesn’t go well. One evening at the dinner table, I laid out this same expectation for my 7 year old daughter.

I remembered what an impact my mom’s expectations had on me and I wanted to be a great parent too. I figured if hearing this expectation at 14 was good, hearing it at 7 was even better. Oh boy, was I wrong! My daughter immediately started crying uncontrollably and sobbing, “Daddy, I don’t want to move out.”

What an epic daddy fail. I back peddled as fast as I could and started groveling for forgiveness. I learned very clearly that day, this message is not right for a 7 year old.

Back to proper perspective. If you are just joining in, this article is part of a series about why failure is important, what it means to fail successfully, and actually letting our kids fail. The goal of this article is to help us teach our daughters to fail successfully by maintaining the proper perspective about their failures.

“The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” —John C. Maxwell

Have you ever had the opportunity to observe or read about how professional athletes act at their kid’s youth sports games? 

I have never seen one in person, but I have read about (link to star telegram article) as many as possible.  Article after article states they simply sit there, cheer for all the kids on both teams, and let the coaches coach and the refs ref. After the game, they meet their kid and leave.

Now, take a moment to remember the last youth sports game you attended. Compare the picture of the parent who has actually participated in a professional sport to the image of the typical youth sports parent (or even coach) who might or might not have even played the sport in high school. 

In my experience, those are vastly different pictures. The typical youth sports parent spends most of the game yelling at someone. They are either screaming at their own kid for messing up, shouting coaching advice to their kid and others, or yelling at the coaches and/or refs for mistakes they are making.

What is the difference? Why is the parent who has played at the highest level calm and relaxed while the one who has minimal playing experience at an all time high level of anxiety, frustration, and even anger?

The answer is simple. Perspective. 

The parent who played sports at the highest level understands the true pressure of sports. They maintain the perspective that youth sports is supposed to teach kids to love the game by having fun and playing. They know from experience, no world championships that matter have ever been won in that middle school gym by a bunch of 9 year olds.

They understand learning to win is an important, but NOT the most important goal at this age. These parent’s perspective helps them define success in youth sports as: learning to love the game, developing proper fundamentals, being part of a team, learning to try your hardest even when it looks pointless. The list goes on and on, but that is a future article all together.

On the other hand, the parent with little or no playing experience defines successful youth sports as: My kid does good and we win. This perspective leads to extreme frustration when these things do not happen for everyone to see.

Jerk Parents

Michelle Kaufman wrote an article titled These fathers played in the pros. But they’re not ‘jerk parents’ to their athlete kids. In this article, former Major League Baseball player Jeff Conine explains his perspective as a parent and youth sports coach:

“My goal was for the kids to learn how to play baseball, and to have fun,” he said. “If they strike out three times in a game, who cares? They’re 12. I wanted to coach a team that had get-togethers at houses, where the parents and kids all got along. That’s what youth sports is about.”

Conine was appalled at some of the behavior he saw from parents, including brawls in the stands. So, when he held tryouts for his son’s team, he vetted the parents as much as the kids. “I could tell right away which parents had things in perspective, and which didn’t,” he said. “And if I felt a parent was about trophies and stats, I’d tell them they’d be best off somewhere else.”

In this video, professional soccer player and coach, John O’Sullivan says youth sports are supposed to be about kids playing, having fun, learning, making friendships, and learning how to solve problems on their own.

Professional athletes are experts in sports and we can learn a lot about parenting from them.  Their perspective on youth sports can help us in our quest to maintain perspective on our own kids failures, in sports and life.

5 ways we can maintain a proper perspective on failure.

1. Failure is an option. Coming to grips with this statement alone can help all of us keep our daughters struggles in perspective. All kids fail. Ours will too. That is a good thing!

In the article, Wisdom from Parents of Superstars, Diana Benedict, mom of Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts says, “Letting your child experience the sadness of not measuring up can help him assess what he’ll have to do differently next time to succeed”

All failures are a step toward success. If our daughters are not failing, they are not doing very much.

Keep proper perspective by remembering it is OK for your daughter to fail.

2. Keep both eyes on the big picture. That 6th grade math test is really not that big of a deal in the big picture of life. I do not think any student has ever been denied acceptance into college because they failed a test in middle school. 

I do not have research evidence to support this, but my personal experience tells me there are kids who actually failed the entire subject of math as a 6th grader but actually succeeded in college. At the same time, I know there are kids who never failed any test in any grade who move home after the first semester of college because they can’t handle it.

Keep proper perspective by focussing on the big picture, not the small steps.

3. Observe actions, not words. Most kids almost automatically act like they don’t care when they fail at something. I’m not sure about you, but this instantly raises my blood pressure. My instinct is to yell, “You better care!”

Thankfully, I have learned from working with kids for over 20 years, their actions are much more important than their words. To see how your daughter is learning the lessons from failure, watch what she does.

Is she spending more time studying for that math test? Usually, she will say out loud she does not care, but her actions will not match these words and the lessons are really being learned.

Keep proper perspective by not listening to their words.

4. Be ultra aware of our behaviors and reactions. Mental skills specialist, Larry Lauer puts it this way for parents, “Have the “I’m becoming that parent radar” on so you can avoid reacting emotionally to the inevitable up’s and down’s of youth sports. Most importantly, love and support your child unconditionally because this is what will help you maintain a great parent-child relationship.”

We should apply the same philosophy to help us keep other failures in perspective. We must make sure our “that parent” radar is fully functional. We must always make sure our reaction to failure matches the size of the struggle.  

A significant predictor of how our kids will respond to failure is how we respond to that failure. If we overreact at every single failure in our daughters lives, they will start to fear failure.  Ironically, fear of failure actually leads to more failure. 

If my daughters know I am going to freak out and overreact to every mistake they make, they will actually make more mistakes and fail more often.  In addition to failing more, they will be more likely to hide their failures from me which prevents any lesson being learned.

Failures create emotions. Emotions generate reactions. We must regularly check our emotions and reactions.  Trust our plan to help our daughters fail successfully is the right plan. Keep propers perspective by having a great “that parent” radar.

5. Don’t take it personal. Our daughters failing is not a reflection of our skills as a parent. Embarrassment is a powerful emotion and too many parents let this emotion override their common sense in a difficult moment. All kids fail. They should. Thank goodness they do! 

If they already knew how to do everything perfectly, I am not sure what they would need us for. Keep proper perspective by remembering our daughters failure is not about us.

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction…..Failure is another stepping stone to greatness” -Oprah

As parents, we often understand that all of those who have reached greatness have failed many times along the way, but for some reason, we believe that same path to greatness does not apply to our own daughters. We want to help them skip the struggles and failures and go straight to greatness. 

The path to greatness does not work that way. They are going to struggle and fail. To help them fail successfully, we must maintain a proper perspective on their failures.

Thank you for joining me on this journey to become a better father. Click here to get the Raising Strong Girls newsletter sent to your inbox for free each week.