A Safe Place to Fail

I was talking with a friend recently about marriage and how as husbands and wives, we need to be safe places for our spouses to fail.  My friend made the connection to parenting, and that immediately seemed blog-worthy. Failure, after all, is the only path to success.  If our kids are afraid to fail because of our parenting habits, we’ll be sorry down the road.

How do we make sure we are a safe place for our kids to fail?

When my 7 year old son pours too much milk in the cereal bowl, I have to remember that he is 7, not 14.  And if the morning has already included changing a blowout diaper, missing the trash pickup, and realizing too late that there is not enough bread to make the kids lunches for school, suddenly, too much milk in the bowl can incur undue wrath.  But what does that teach him? Am I building the confidence of this little pre-man or stripping it raw?

I don’t always point out their mistakes… anymore.

When my 9 year old daughter wipes off the kitchen table but she forgets to hang the rag back up on the peg, there was a time when I would have not thought twice about calling her back in to pick up the rag out of the sink and hang it up.  Now, I’m much more likely to see the error, weigh the situation and decide what to do.  I might just go kiss her on the head and say, “Thanks for wiping up the kitchen.” And I might add, “next time, would you hang the rag back up?” But I might not.

How, as parents, do we decide when to correct their errors and when to let them slide, acknowledging their inherent shortcomings as non-adults?

As their parents, it is also our job to correct their errors so they can grow and thrive. Over the years, I have grown more and more into the habit of “out-of-the-moment” parenting.  This morning, my daughter was practicing her sight-reading on the piano, and I heard her fumbling through a song she usually plays well.  When she was done, she moved on to the next song.  Now, I’ve told her before that if she struggles through a familiar song, she should play it again, maybe a little slower, before moving on.

I was making the PBJs for their lunches, and in the moment, I decided not to go in there and correct her.  I waited till she was brushing her hair and I went in and mentioned it to her – like giving her a tip for next time.  Knowing my daughter, that was a much more effective communication strategy.

More often, though, we’ve got to parent in the moment, and that’s where the posture of our heart matters most.  If we have decided ahead of time that we want to be a safe place for our kids to fail, more than we want them to always get things right, that will absolutely influence how we act.  When I’m not so focused on them performing perfectly, I end up enjoying them more, and I’m sure they enjoy me more too.  This is as tough an aspect of parenting as there is, because it is mentally expensive.  But I believe it is worth the price.

How do you balance correction and encouragement? I’d love to learn from your stories…

7 thoughts on “A Safe Place to Fail

  1. Thanks… I needed to hear this today. It’s been a rough week and I feel like I’ve been so hard on my 2 year old. I have to remember that HE is not 14– he’s so grown up in his own little way. Hard to find the balance between lazy parenting and being to harsh on the little guy! I want what is best for him and his little baby brother. Thanks for the encouragement… I’ll keep searching for the right balance AND I’ll pray the H.S. continues to guide and lead this mama…

  2. One thing I do to make sure I am balancing encouragement and correction is to take a few seconds to think about my attitude and my angle on life that day. If I am in a grumpy mood I likely need to a little easier than I think on the little tike. If it’s a great day and all is well in our little world and he is still needing correction– likely I am going to give him the correction he needs. I guess what I am saying is… it’s easy to be harder on kids when we are in bad moods ourselves! So.. even though he’s two I still explain to him that I’m just having a bad day and I’m not so happy and that it would be easier on me if he could…. (fill in the blank). Usually just being real with him helps him to listen better or behave… he even gives ME some much needed sympathy in return. PLUS he’s learning that people have feelings and that feelings vary from day to day– he’s already so sensitive to other’s feelings and I love that! Hope that helps someone…

  3. This is a good article. My kids are 28, 26, 23, 20, 11, 9 and 7 (I think…I kinda lose track sometimes!!). I can remember very early on calling an older woman in our church because I was so frustrated with my toddler “not getting it”. She gave me a piece of advice that I still quote today, both to myself and to other young mothers. There are NO perfect parents and NO perfect children. Now, quite honestly, this advice I didn’t care for…I really didn’t want to accept this from this wonderful older woman. Two decades down the road, I understand what she was saying. Most of the time, my frustration with my children is also rooted in the frustration I have with myself not quite measuring up to my standard of perfection. These same two decades later I also understand something else. Those areas that I make horrid mistakes with my children (or they continue to make horrid mistakes) are the areas that God can and will draw close to my children and in those areas, eventually He becomes known by them in a very personal way. And quite honestly, training my children in certain behaviors will never measure up to my children knowing and loving God.

    So, those are my two cents, for whatever they are worth. And on the practical side, whenever I addressed issues with my children, I attempted to not label them with the behavior. For example, if something they have done is careless, then I do not call them careless. I try to help them see that they chose careless actions. Older children may choose a very ‘stupid’ path, but again, they–as a person, are not stupid, but they chose to do something that was not very smart. God sees us as forgiven and covered by the cross, He sees us as perfected in Him and when He corrects us, He is calling us in that direction. Remember, there is no condemnation in Him.

  4. Wow, Alice. Seven kids spanning 20 years. I’ll listen to whatever you have to say… thanks for sharing all that.

    And the whole “labeling” thing – I got the same advice from a fantastic book called Raising Your Spirited Child that had very wise stuff to say about addressing unwanted behavior. I still refer to that book often in my mind. I’ve got to call my buddy Austin who I let borrow it.

  5. Definitely a great reminder, especially when my two year old is crawlign all over me while I’m trying to feed his younger sister. Alice, I really appreciate the labeling reminder! I really want to make sure I am not creating my own bad discipline habits. I am excited to check out that book too!

    I had one encouraging story that reaffirmed that what we are doing is working when my son put himself in time out in the church nursery because he know he wasn’t obeying.

  6. I needed this reminder today — thanks! I get so easily frustrated with my 3 year old, especially when he is mean to his younger brother. I must remember to choose my words and my tone carefully.

    It coincides nicely with another article I read tonight called “Joyful Parenting” — how we are to cultivate joy in our parenting by being thankful. I like the author’s advice to pray to God each day and thank him for one of our children. With 2, it seems almost too simple, but I can imagine with 7 — well, you have one for each day of the week!


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