Teaching Our Kids to Be Losers

Losing is the first step in teaching our kids to succeed.

The email landed in my inbox on an otherwise calm day, but as I scanned the list trying to find my daughter’s name, I realized the tranquility was about to end.  
“Wren, we need to talk.”
I explained to her that the speaking part she auditioned for in the musical had gone to someone else, but she was given a non-speaking part and would still be part of the choir.
“Wait, did they not know I wanted a speaking part? I mean, do I need to tell them at the next practice that’s what I was trying out for so they will understand?” Wren asked, and I wondered if there had ever been a time in my life when I possessed enough confidence to see rejection as someone else’s obvious mistake.
“That’s not actually what happened,” I said and proceeded to explain the finer points of being a gracious loser and looking at the audition as one for her experience bank.  
“You tried and didn’t get it, but that doesn’t mean the experience was a waste,” I encouraged.  As tears rolled down her cheeks, I started wondering about the benefits of the experience bank since my heart ached for my oldest child.  
However, research has my back. Yes, Wren lost, but that is now being seen as the first step in teaching our kids to succeed.

How Participation Trophies and Praise Teach Our Kids to Stop Trying

In the age of participation trophies and praise just for showing up, our children are unfamiliar with the sting of loss and the lessons that can come from it, such as perseverance and self-confidence. As nice as it is to get a trophy no matter what, researchers believe this trend is depriving our kids of life-skills.
Po Bronson and Ashely Merryman, co-authors of the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, found that kids who are always praised and given trophies tend to achieve less because they enjoy the praise so much they fear failure. Fearing failure means they don’t persevere when they come across a difficult task. They would rather receive praise for doing less than failing and losing the praise.
How we respond to our children losing also has a huge effect on how they view it. Psychologists have found that parents who are able to address their child’s failure as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes have kids who are more willing to keep trying, even when a task is difficult. Parents who instead tell their kids to stick with what they know when they fail in a new area are more likely to have kids who think all skills are innate and can’t be changed by hard work.  
Basically, these children come to believe intelligence is set and when they lose, they are not intelligent. These kids are likely to shy away from anything they don’t know they are already good at, because who wants to feel stupid?

The Pressure to Win

It’s not that we shouldn’t encourage our kids’ desire to win. Healthy competition is not bad, but winning should not be the final indicator of whether an experience was worthwhile or not.  
Psychology Today found that while the majority of people polled believe trophies should only be given to children who actually win, there is still room to praise effort and improvement. It doesn’t have to come in trophy form, and there’s no reason to avoid the obvious subject of loss as if it’s too shameful to discuss.  
However, sincerely praising a child’s effort and rewarding them for how much they’ve improved and tried is much different than giving a child praise for just showing up. When parents know and express the difference, they can help their kids value the effort that went into trying as much as the accolades that come with winning.

How Parents Are Programmed Affects Their Response

As parents, our innate desire is to see our children happy, and it’s never a parent’s desire to watch their kid fail, even if the child can learn something from the experience. Plus, parents who have memories of feeling like a failure will fight hard to make sure their child doesn’t carry the same scars.  
Brené Brown, author of “Rising Strong“, also points out that many of us see our child’s successes and failures as a reflection of us. As parents, it’s great to have the child who is winning because we feel we own part of that success just by being their parent.  
Our goal then, according to Brown and other researchers, needs to be to deal with our own feelings so we can better guide our kids to a more accurate understanding of how to fail and keep trying. Brown emphasizes teaching kids to be the author of their story instead of only casting themselves as the losers or winners. This helps reframe experiences, good and bad, as a part of the narrative of life, and that gives kids both a sense of control and a more comprehensive understanding of how our response to a win or a loss is often more important than the competition itself.

Beyond the Participation Trophy

Failure is an everyday practice not reserved only for auditions and sports competitions. Our kids are given opportunities on school assignments or other endeavors to use their skills, and they are also given the chance to find out their project might not be the best, no matter how hard they tried.
Jessica Lahey, author of “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed”, believes it’s just as important for parents not to meddle in a child’s assignments to ensure they score the highest grade or receive the most praise. Encouraging a child to work hard and put in their best effort is enough. Parents stepping in to make the project or assignment just a bit better so their child won’t face the uncomfortable feeling of not being the best is not teaching them a helpful lesson.
The child who works hard and still doesn’t win will likely do better with the outcome than the child who works hard then has their parent step in to make modifications to their work. Our actions, not just our words, teach our kids what we think about effort versus winning, and always being the safety net to shield our child from failure says we don’t value the experience as much as we do the outcome, nor do we consider their hard work good enough.

***

With the research on my side, I continued to talk to Wren about trying hard at new endeavors she wanted to master as opposed to sticking only with the safe skills she already knew she could perform. She received praise for her effort, for giving the audition her best shot and trying something new.  
Focusing on the hard work instead of the outcome had a desirable effect. She marched back in when solo singing tryouts occurred two weeks later, unafraid of failing. She was offered her first choice solo song and has since signed up to compete in a bookmark contest and a Grand Prix race where she builds her own car, despite not knowing the first thing about building a tiny, mobile car. She will likely lose the last two endeavors, and that’s just fine.
It’s nice to see kids win some, but it’s even better to see them become accomplished losers.

4 Questionable Behaviors With Surprising Benefits

According to psychologists, you may not be raising a wild career criminal after all.

Every parent has had a moment where they’ve stared at their screaming, tantruming child and wondered, “Am I doing this wrong? Am I creating a monster?”

Raising a child into adulthood is a path full of struggles. We all want our children to be the sort of perfect angels that will make other parents coo in awe and envy, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

As it turns out, though, raising a perfect child might not be such a great thing after all. According to psychologists, some of those things your children do that drive you insane are actually working wonders for their development – and might be great signs about their futures.

1 | Children who lie are smarter.

The first time I caught my child lying, I was furious. He had just spilled his drink on the floor, and went straight for a bald-faced lie.

“I didn’t do that,” he told me, the milk still pouring out of the cup in his hand. He looked at the mess for a second, thought about it, and decided to throw in an, “I think Dada did that.”

I was angry, of course – but maybe I should have been delighted. Because according to psychologists, a child’s first lie is actually a milestone of their intellectual development.

Every child, without exception, will lie to their parents at least once. Normally, these lies start when the child is two or three. By the age of four, they will start getting a bit more believable – and that’s because the child starts being able to understand your perspective.

If your child starts lying earlier, though, it’s actually a great sign that you’re raising a genius. Lying at a young age, according to researchers, is actually a sign that the child is exceptionally capable of carrying out complex cognitive tasks.

Lying is a really difficult to do. A lying child is suppressing his instincts so that he can accomplish a goal. He has to look at reality and creatively construe it, and he has to memorize the details of the lie to keep it up. A child who can pull it off, then, is demonstrating some impressive abilities.

So, if your child lies to your face, you might not need to panic. You’re not raising a criminal – your child’s just getting a little smarter.

2 | Stubborn kids grow up to become wealthier adults.

Some children make you fight tooth-and-nail over everything. It can be a parent’s biggest worry – we dedicate amazing amounts of energy to begging our children to listen and to just do what they are told.

If your child doesn’t, though, it might actually be great news. According to one study, those stubborn kids are destined to grow up and get rich.

A group of scientists followed 700 kids over decades to find out which childhood traits lead to success later in life. Year after year, they would check in on the children, take note of their personalities, and find out how they were doing.

When the participants were 40 years old, the ones who had gotten rich all had something in common – they were the ones who didn’t listen when their parents told them what to do. Of every trait they looked at, stubbornness was the biggest indicator of future success.

According to the researchers, this might be because being stubborn is actually incredibly useful in adult life. Stubborn children are more competitive in class, so they get better grades. They’re more demanding at work, so they earn better salaries. And they’re more ambitious, because they don’t mind upsetting a few friends to get further ahead.

3 | Talking to imaginary friends helps kids solve problems.

It can be kind of creepy to see your kid chatting it up with an invisible friend. When your child starts bonding with someone who isn’t there, it’s hard not to let scenes from “The Shining” come to mind, and it can be tempting to worry about your child’s social future.

Children who talk to imaginary friends, however, actually grow up psychologically healthier. They’re doing more than playing – they’re practicing talking themselves through problems.

These children are learning a skill called “private speech,” which is the ability to talk to yourself. It’s a skill that’s going to make them much better at solving difficult tasks later in life. Private speech helps them control their own behavior, figure out difficult tasks, and regulate their own emotions. It also gives them stronger memories, motivations, and imaginations.

So, a child’s imaginary friend might make it look like they’re going crazy – but it’s actually going to keep them sane.

4 | Kids who try to break their own necks become better at making decisions.

Watching your child dangle from the cracking branch of a tree is terrifying. Parents’ minds almost seem to be programmed to flash through every possible thing that could go wrong, and then to convince you that every one of these terrible things are definitely going to happen.

It’s tempting to pull your child down and keep them safe inside – and a lot of parents do. Dangerous play is far less common today than it was in our parents’ generation – and it’s having an impact.

Children who play dangerous, risky games are actually doing what they are evolutionarily programmed to do. Just like roughhousing animals, they are learning to regulate fear and anger and to respond to danger.

Without dangerous play, children don’t learn these skills – so they grow up more anxious and less capable of making difficult decisions. This is so serious that the number of young people suffering from anxiety today is at least five times as high as it was in the 1950s.

It’s easy to worry about your children. Every bad action and every bad trait can seem like a crisis that’s going to balloon into a catastrophe in their adult years. The truth is that everything your child is going through is normal – and it’s all just going to make them stronger down the road.

It’s okay for your child to be a little bit less than perfect right now. In fact, it’s a good thing.

3 Surefire Signs That You’re Raising a Right-Brained Kid

They leave creative messes in their wake and challenge left brained logic at every opportunity. But these outside-the-box right brains can teach us so much.

It is 7:30 am and my head is spinning.

I’ve already fielded at least 50 questions from my daughter in reference to the breakfast options in the house and why she can’t consume popsicles or ice cream for breakfast (despite the fact we literally just talked about this yesterday).

Although I’ve taken the time to put out some brand new crayons and a coloring book last night, my daughter pays no mind to this and begins to methodically remove random items from the pantry in effort to “make a concoction, mom!” Out of the corner of my eye I see pantry condiments being strewn across the room.

I’m a fairly straightforward, logical person. Although I may have a trifling streak of creativity, for the most part I am a left-brained, logical thinking kind of gal (which is probably what earned me the nickname of “the mom” in college). In this light, it’s easy to understand why my right-brained, free-spirited child has given me a run for my money. In just about any area I can think of, my independent and strong-willed kid has handed me my common-sensed reasonable ego, minced up on a silver platter. 

Either these kids see and experience the world in a different way due to being right brain dominant (where our emotions are housed), or they are, in fact, evil minions that set out from day one to disapprove the “parenting expert” who happened to bring them into the world. Although many days the mom in me would try to convince you it’s the whole evil minion thing, the child therapist in me knows that it’s actually the former concept that’s accurate.

These kids are creative minds.

Ever notice that one of your kids seems to leave a messy trail behind them wherever they go?

Kids that are right-brain dominant are usually very creative, which can lead to messes of epic proportions. The parents of these kids know what I’m talking about. These kids don’t commonly play with toys in in conventional ways, because well, that’d be too straightforward.

Instead they’ll produce intricate and awesome creations and scenarios, leaving behind the most absurd piles of random assorted objects you’ve ever seen in your life (the kind of pile you have to leave until tomorrow morning because the thought of sorting it all out makes your brain hurt).

These kids are independent spirits.

Can’t get one word out of your mouth that goes unchallenged?

You say the sky is blue, and they point out, “during the sunset it’s orange, pink, and yellow!” If you can relate to this you may have an right-brained soul in your home. You’re such a centered and educated parent, why can’t these children sit quietly as you methodically impart knowledge to them via reasonable discussion? The nerve! 

Despite all of your wise teachings, your spirited kid is most likely not going to simply take your word for it. He’s going to go out and explore the world to figure it out for himself, through his natural modalities of learning, exploration and observation.

These kids are sensitive and emotional souls.

Ever feel like you’re standing in the middle of a soap opera in your own home?

Buckle up and get ready to ride the emotional rollercoaster! Right-brained kiddos wear their emotions on their sleeves. They experience emotion more intensely, and the expression of said emotion follows suit.

These kids are the loudest of the bunch in most crowds and will not discriminate in how or when their big feelings come out (church, libraries, funerals, etc).

If you’re a parent who’s uncomfortable with their emotions, watch out because your kid can read you like the latest issue of Highlights. With a highly emotional soul often comes a highly intuitive person.

Your kid knows exactly when you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, serving to introduce anxiety into the already precarious equation and further exacerbating your child’s strong emotions.

On my weak days, many of these qualities are frustrating and can lead to feelings of defeat and exhaustion. On strong days, I’m so ridiculously grateful to have this outside-the-box kid who teaches me (or forces me, if we’re being honest) to look at things in life, both small and large, in completely new ways.

And at the end of the day, I know deep down that these wisdoms are well worth the destruction of what’s formerly known as my intact parenting ego.