The Paradox of Failure and Self-Confidence


Loving parents, as a group, share the hope that their children will grow up to be self-confident, responsible, and hard working adults. We’ve been told by educators and assorted mental health practitioners since the 1950’s that praise, reinforcement, and rewards for success are the forces that will create this positive trajectory. The phrase “catch them being good” has often been re-translated into “catch them being successful”, or more significantly, “don’t let them fail”. While praise is clearly a force supporting motivation and success, the avoidance of failure is a force working in opposition to this goal.

Allowing a child to experience the natural consequences for failure in a loving and supporting environment represents an opportunity for growth that is not obtainable in any other way. Praising a child for solving his own problems, for persevering even if frustrated, and for working through obstacles and pressure is an integral component in the development of motivation and self-esteem. Parental anxiety, anger, and over-involvement communicate a lack of faith in the child’s ability to succeed on his own. Supportive concern and expression of belief in the child’s ability to figure it out are messages that support the child’s independence.

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