Being a parent in the 21st century is a minefield of challenges, fraught with difficulties and demands, a constant battle to dodge threats to our children's welfare and happiness. Bringing up a well-adjusted, happy child is no mean feat within the pressured environment of 21st century living. There is an irony then in what I believe is our biggest failing as parents - not allowing our children to fail and learn from failure.
The "every child is a winner" mentality has reached epidemic proportions in our schools and homelife. It seems it is no longer acceptable for one child to be declared the outright winner at anything; everyone must be rewarded equally for their efforts. Every child gets a medal. Of course I am not saying that effort should not be recognised and that every child should not be encouraged to take part despite their ability or lack of. What I am saying, however, is that not winning is absolutely fine, that not making the grade is just what happens sometimes. Fact of life.
We are not doing our children any favours by shielding them from failure - in fact, we are doing them a disservice. Being an adult in the world today is no easy task and resilience and resourcefulness are key to survival and success. Learning to accept failure and how we respond to failure are crucial life lessons and without them, to my mind, it is analogous to throwing our children to the wolves when they leave the cossetted embrace of childhood for the tough and often cruel adult world.
Paradoxically as the outside world has got tougher for adults, we, as parents, seem to be wrapping our children up in cotton wool all the more. I am sure many parents reading this will be jumping up and down and saying "what about self-esteem?", "what about building a child's confidence?" I don't disagree - self-esteem and confidence are vital but not at the expense of learning to fail. I think that we have to inject a large dose of realism into our children's lives in order to prepare them fully for adulthood. Acceptance that you won't win everything, that there are others better than you at some things and that you won't get everything you pursue or desire is critical.
Allowing failure, embracing it even, and building up self-esteem are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly possible to do both and I would argue if we don't allow our children to fail on occasion and learn from that, then the self-esteem we spend years nurturing is very precarious indeed and at great risk of disintegrating in the adult world.
Perhaps the problem is the actual word "failure" - it has such negative connotations. Perhaps we need to teach our children that failure can have a very positive meaning too as a tool to ensure our children are ready for the real world. How can our children really appreciate success without experiencing failure? Success is all the sweeter for struggling and for exposure to its counterpart.
Allowing failure also allows competition to thrive. Why has competition become such a dirty word? I am not advocating the kind of competition which is largely generated by adults living their lives and ambitions vicariously through their children but the sort of inter-children competition which is healthy and teaches our children resilience and fosters a desire to do one's best and fulfill one's potential. Surely no parent would think it fair to send their child out into the ultra-competitive job market without any experience of healthy competition and resultant failure on occasion? How ill-equipped that child would be to deal with the inevitable knock backs.
Witnessing your child failing at something is horrible for any parent - it is one of the hardest things and it brings out the most protective elements in us. However, just because it makes us feel awful, does not mean it is not important for your child to experience it and the best thing as parents that we can do for our child is ensure they learn from failure in a supportive, protective environment and that their experience makes them all the more resilient and determined to succeed. If we do that for our children then, I believe, we are giving them a very valuable tool for future success and an ability to deal with all the pressures and knocks that the adult world will bring their way.