What to Do When Your Kid Fails (Episode 356)


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Failure is an essential part of life and it’s a reality your kid will need to face. Find out more about how you can help your kid through their failures on this episode of Have a New Kid by Friday Podcast.

Show Sponsored by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing

Produced by Unmutable™


Doug: Wow, I totally blew that. I think I’ll never be anything. Wait a second. I didn’t make the basketball team? That’s it. It’s over for me. I’ll never amount to anything. The question we get to ask Dr. Leman today is, when is failure final, or is failure final? How do we know it? How do we deal with failure in our kid’s life? Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea: And I’m Andrea.

Doug: And we are really, really glad that you are with us today. If this is your first time here, welcome. Really glad that you get to be with us. This is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. So Dr. Leman, when is failure bad for our kids and what about this stupid phrase that failure is not final? How do we deal with it in our small kids and our teenage kids?

Dr. Leman: Well for parents, number one, your kid’s failure is a death blow. Let’s face it. Parents go way out of their way to keep their kids happy at every turn. I think I have in my book, I framed it failure isn’t fatal. Here’s a thought for us to think about this morning, is when you talk to someone who’s very, very successful and you ask them the question, how much failure was in their life, they will tell you surprisingly, a lot of failure. So there isn’t a safer place, and this comes from the book, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, which is a million plus seller by the way, by me, and been around for a long time. But there’s not a safer place for your child to fail, parents, than in your home.

Dr. Leman: Now my question is, when they do fail in the home, how do you respond to that failure? That’s the key, because kids need to learn that life isn’t perfect, that you get curve balls. They learn that from mom and dad. Kids love stories. I’ve always encouraged parents to make up, fabricate based on some truth, a story about your life, and share some of the failures in your life. Kids learn through stories. They love to see that mommy and daddy goofed up or they made a mistake, but you’ve got to tie it together so there’s a happy ending, where mom or dad was wrong, they got very angry, they did something bad, but later on, they made up with her sister, their brother, their mother, their father, their grandfather, whatever it is. Those are little teachable moments, I think. So yeah, I hope there’s failure in your life.

Dr. Leman: I was doing a PD the other day, a professional development for teachers, and I made the point about the teacher I really love is the teacher that says, “You know what, I’m lost. I need some help.” That’s the teacher that I can deal with. That’s the teacher that we can help. That’s the teacher who can learn to be a better teacher. The teacher I get skittish about is a teacher who says, “Oh, I got it. This is simple.” That’s the one I worry about. So life’s a learning process and we should expect failure, but it’s how you handle that failure that’s important.

Dr. Leman: I know as a kid, Doug you mentioned, I got cut from the basketball team. And I still remember, you’ve heard this story, I think, going up to my junior varsity basketball coach and said, “Mr. Parr, you skipped over my name,” because he had just read the guys that made the team. And he said, as only a tender-hearted man could say, “I didn’t skip it, Leman. You got cut.” I grabbed my clothes from my locker, ran home. This was in Buffalo, New York in the winter time, November. And cried all the way home. I was 15 years old.

Andrea: How did you deal with it? And how did your mom process that with you? Because you said, “See how we handle it.”

Dr. Leman: I didn’t deal with it well. I avoided school. I used to cut school a lot. I did some of my winter sports after school. I started to run with a little different crowd, because all these guys that were on the basketball team, well two of them were my two best friends as a kid growing up. So it put a chasm in friendships for me because these guys were at basketball practice after school and I was walking home by myself, where it used to be the three of us, we’d walk home, and that would be after basketball practice. So, I dealt with it like a lot of 15 year olds would deal with stuff. I told myself I was better than this guy. And this guy, in retrospect as an adult, I think he cut me because I was always fooling around and he probably had enough of my fooling around and said, “You know what? He’s not serious enough to become a ballplayer.” Because I had played up until then. I played on a freshman team as a seventh grader, which meant I was pretty good, but it caught up to me.

Dr. Leman: And my parents always had my back. They just always did. My mother was probably, “Oh honey, it’ll be okay.” Well, how do you know it’s going to be okay, mom? But that’s sort of her. That was her mantra in life, everything’s going to be okay. But she was an encourager. I never doubted for a moment that I was loved and cared for. We were a very poor family. We didn’t have much in terms of things, that’s for sure.

Doug: So Dr. Leman, you already referenced this, that today we’re all about making sure our children don’t fail. So you’re not painting a picture after you’re being cut from the basketball team to give parents like, “Oh, great. Then I don’t have to worry about my kid failing.” You’re ramping up the meter of like, well, I can never let them be cut from the basketball team because then they’ll become like Dr. Leman, and we don’t want that.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. That just triggered a memory, Doug. I was talking about doing my winter sports, which is true, but I found out that there was still time to try out for the bowling team. The bowling team. So I’ll get in trouble for saying this. So I stooped to that level and I showed up and I was just in the nick of time to try out. And I tried out, I got caught from that. That was a bad year. That just was too many bad things happening. But again, life goes on. You’re right, Doug. Parents want their kid to be successful at everything. They push them. And when you push kids, usually the kids dig in and situation’s going to get worse. So how you emotionally handle your kid’s failure will determine, in essence how your kid is going to handle that eventually.

Dr. Leman: Like I say, when a kid throws a temper tantrum, what do you do? You step over the child. Well, psychologically parent, are you able to step over the hurtful thing that just happened to your son or your daughter where there was failure in spades? Can you just roll with it? Honey, I understand. I know it’s a huge thing to you and I’ve got to tell you, I hurt for you. And in all honesty, I’ve got to tell you, it’s not the biggest thing in the world as I see it, but I’m not you. And so that would be my way of talking my kid down from this, it’s the end of the world because this happened.

Doug: So here’s armchair psychologist, Doug Terpening. One of the things that Mrs. Terpening and I recognized here recently because of something in our kids’ lives, is that we are those parents that are trying to protect our kids from any pain at all. We don’t want them to experience any kind of setback or failure. And then I realized, oh my gosh, this is so prevalent. I wasn’t able to see it, even though you’ve said it multiple times. What bad thing am I doing to my kids by not allowing them to experience hurts and failures now?

Dr. Leman: Well, in a word you’re stifling their development. You’ve heard me use the term psychological muscles. Kids build psychological muscles and resiliency by facing things that aren’t fun to face. The bumps and bruises of life are going to come along, so don’t make them worse. Your kid needs that psychological vaccination that helps them minimize the flu that’s coming, or whatever. There’s a way of softening life. No parent gets up in the morning and says, “Oh, I sure hope my kid hurts today.” There’s not a kid on the planet that does it, but there’s all kinds of parents who what? Hurt their kids every day through words of discouragement or criticism. If a kid learns criticism, he learns to condemn other people, and then he turns that condemnation on himself and he doesn’t see himself as worthy.

Dr. Leman: So, we’re the captain of the ship. We have to remember, as the captain of the good ship family, you have to have a port of call. You have to know where you’re going, and you know where you’re going because of the values that you hold close in your life. That’s what the kids are going to catch. They’re going to catch your values. They’re going to hear your words. Words can make a difference, but do your actions match up to your words? You can’t fool kids.

Doug: So Andrea, you’re the resident mom here. You see that your kid is about to have a failure and get really hurt. Can you let it happen, or is there something within you that you just have to step in, have to tell them, have to push them? We have a kid taking an online college class right now. If you saw that they were going to fail on that, could you just let them fail?

Andrea: Well, it depends on what you’re asking me to do. I mean, if you’re asking me to do his homework, no, I’m not going to do his homework. If you’re asking me to check with him and make sure he’s getting stuff turned in on time, well yeah, there’s probably a tendency to follow up with him and push that a little. Well actually I realize-

Dr. Leman: How do you do that? How do you check on your kid keeping up with school?

Andrea: You ask them, when is it due? I mean, you’re constantly on them. You’re checking, hey, what’s on the calendar? Do you have a calendar? What’s the schedule? When is this due? That’s what you do.

Dr. Leman: Well, most families don’t have calendars.

Andrea: Oh, well.

Dr. Leman: So what I’m suggesting is rather than probe into your kid, pick up your cell phone, make a phone appointment with that teacher and say, “Hey, could I just ask you how my son is doing? Would you mind checking back with me if homework doesn’t appear on time or anything like that? Would that be too much to ask of you?” Build a relationship with significant people in your child’s life. You don’t always have to run through your child. Do it on the QT, so your kid doesn’t feel like you’re hanging over his shoulder, watching his every move. Actually you are, but you’re doing it so smartly, he doesn’t know it.

Doug: So, this I think is a big topic and then we’ll do the ebook, Andrea. Maybe it’s just because it’s just recently come up in our family, is that I am creating soft children who don’t know how to deal with hard things because life has been so easy for them. And now that they’re starting to go out there, I’m noticing like, well in certain areas they can deal with it, but in a ton of areas, we didn’t allow them to get “enough hurts” to build up those muscles to do it. So, what are we doing long-term to our children when they get to 25 and 30, if we’re not allowing them to have some of those failures and have to process it without us fixing it or just making it go away?

Dr. Leman: Well you’re creating in your child, to answer your question, recurrent thoughts of self-doubt, of I’m a failure, I’m never going to amount to anything. All those negative tapes will be playing in your kid’s head if that’s what you’ve done. And that’s why it’s important. We’ve often said on this podcast, a three-year old can help unload the dishwasher. So you start young. You start, young parents, by making sure your son or daughter does their due diligence in terms of taking care of your apartment or your home, doing such mundane things as cleaning bathrooms and picking up after themselves. And it ought to be just a routine part of growing up. If you want a responsible child, you give your child what? Hugs and kisses. No, you give them responsibility. This isn’t rocket science. Nothing we’re talking about today is terribly complicated. You don’t need a PhD in anything to figure this out, but you have to allow kids to fail, to explore the world around them.

Dr. Leman: Those kids are going to develop their own interests. Any parent that’s got four kids will tell you that, yeah, there’s some similarities between this one and this one, and this one gets along with this one more than those two get along with each other, but by and large, take a look at who they are and you created four very different people. So, that’s the way it is. I’m the guy that wrote The Birth Order Book, and I’m here to tell you the first born turns left and then the second born turns right. They’re going to be different, opposite.

Andrea: Just talking about this makes me think of a little example here in our house, where I had to let go, and I think that’s the key for us as parents, is we have to let go and let things fail and not go the way we wanted. This summer, our kids wanted to grow some squash and pumpkins in a different area, and I’ve always grown it by the garden and I’ve tended it and I’ve made sure I get my pie pumpkins and my squash for the winter. And they had cleared this other area and they were determined, we want to grow our pumpkins and squash. And I just had to bite my tongue. I thought, well, maybe I’ll plant a few in my garden so I know I have some, but I didn’t really have space. So I thought, okay, I’ll let them do this.

Andrea: I think I got three squash, and the pumpkins did all right, but it was a weedy mess full of blackberries and thistles. And I just kept telling myself all summer, you can buy these at the store this winter. But it was good because the kids got to have that failure and the hard part for me, and this is why I’m saying this story, is because for us as moms and parents, sometimes we have to let go and let them try things, knowing that it’s going down as a failure.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. Well, biting your tongue is hard to do as a mom especially. There are some differences in moms and dads. You women do live differently than us men. We see the same stimuli in different parts of our brains light up. So these differences that appear are opportunities for us just to realize that, hey, I treat my kids differently because they’re not the same. They have to learn. I don’t have to jump in and give them an answer. They can figure it out. And when they do figure it out, inside of them they’re saying, “Hey, I can do that.” A little two-year-old or three-year-old will say, “I’ll do it. Me. I want to do it. I want to do it.” Well, let them do it. And when they’re over their head and they’re doing something that a six-year-old should be doing and not a three-year-old, they’re going to fail.

Dr. Leman: And when they come to you with the object in hand for you to fix it or make it right, you make it right without editorial comment, and the kid learns in a very natural way that they have boundaries, that adults can be helpful, but you don’t have to overdo it. Oh, please let mommy help. I can fix it. You know, just wait. It’ll come naturally to you sooner or later.

Doug: Well, let me get the ebook opportunity for you guys. It’s Have a New Sex Life by Friday for 1.99 between now and March 31st of 2021, wherever ebooks are sold.

Andrea: Yep. And Shorty says her review, “My husband and I loved this book. It has helped us to solve communication issues by bringing us on the same page. Love Dr. Leman’s writing style and sense of humor.”

Doug: How could this book help with communication? It’s about sex.

Dr. Leman: Yeah. I wonder if I should have called that book, Have Sex by Friday. Oh, there goes that [inaudible] Leman mind again.

Doug: Go wherever ebooks are sold. And now, a no nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.

Dr. Leman: You know, in today’s age of working parents, one of the questions I get asked a lot is, hey, at what age can I leave my eldest child in charge of the others while I run to the store or have a doctor’s appointment or whatever? Maturity’s and the interesting thing. It’s a slippery slope. But I think sometime between the ages of 10, 11, and 12 is a perfect time to delegate responsibility to a son or daughter. Some of you right now are gasping. Don’t gasp. Just make sure your son or daughter has a way of contacting you. Keep your cell phone on, and hopefully you won’t get the call. If you want to raise a responsible child, learn to grant responsibility early in their life. It works.

Andrea: So what we’re talking about today is that failure is not final. So what does that mean? Just going back to that saying, if it’s not final, what do I have to look forward to? What’s the hope for-

Dr. Leman: Here’s the thing Andrew, I’d like people to think about. Who is the person that had your back forever, no matter what? Who was the person in your life who loved you just the way you were? Now if you’d all put your fingers up as you’re listening to the podcast, if you look at your own hand, you’ll see you have two fingers up or three fingers up, in all probability. Yeah, some of you have four, some of you have five. Not many of you have more than five. Very, very few. What I’m getting at is that take a kid like Kevin Leman, who got thrown out of Cub Scouts, got thrown out of college, failed algebra so many times, failed Latin. Couldn’t get in college, was a janitor when he met his wife. And I would say that I’ve been pretty successful. I think most people would say, “That little fat guy’s done okay for himself.”

Dr. Leman: I failed. I failed everything. My elementary algebra final exam as a freshman was 22 on the final. I mean, I was dumb as a rock. I wasn’t doing anything. Well, what made the difference? The old Kenny Rogers song, She Believed in Me. When you have people who believe in you and have your back and encourage you in a loving way, there’s no stopping. And that’s why I say failure isn’t fatal. It certainly wasn’t in my life. I had failure written all over. And I’ve tried to encourage people. I love the underdog. I love to see people who shouldn’t make it in life. And when you look at those people’s lives, you’ll see those key people who had such great belief and optimism for your future surrounded with love. That’s the prescription for taking someone who failed and turning them into a winner.

Dr. Leman: In a spiritual sense for those who don’t know God the father, through his son, Jesus Christ, I mean, are you a failure? Eternally, you’re a failure? So there are spiritual things that … and certainly it was part of my life. I mean, I came to know the Lord when I was 21 years of age and I was brought to church, dragged to church, knew all those Bibles stories. And until I had a personal relationship with my maker, did my life change. And then God gave me motivation. I don’t think I gave myself motivation. I think that was a spiritual gift from God. He said, “You can do this.” And I remember getting my first really good grades in my life and looking at the report card and saying my name out loud to myself and like, yeah, that’s actually your report card. Wow. All A’s and one B. Wow.

Dr. Leman: We talk here on our podcasts about life in general. We try not to beat people over the head from a spiritual sense, but hey friend, God created the universe. He created you and me. There was a master designer. There’s a reason why our eyes are so complex, why our brain is the way it is, why that moon is just exactly in the right position, why our earth access is exactly at the right position. Move it one degree either way and we’re done. So to God be the glory. He is the creator. Now if you personally don’t believe in God, believe what you want. I’m not telling you what to believe, but I am sharing what I believe, and Doug and Andrea believe as well. I should have been a pastor maybe. Huh?

Doug: I don’t think so.

Andrea: I think you’re doing the right thing.

Doug: I think you went the right way, yeah. Well, we really hope that this helped all of you as you’re trying to deal with your kids’ failure and what should you do and what should you not do. We absolutely love being with you. We just think it’s great that you’re willing to hang out with us and add to your parenting toolbox so you can love those kiddos more and more.

Andrea: Have a great week.

Doug: We look forward to next time. Bye, bye.

Andrea: Bye.

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