Failure 101 – Lesson 3: Don't Get Pissed (Refer to Lesson 0)

This is the last of the “Failure 101” series inspired by the Flying Dutchman’s challenge posed during the launch of Dads@Communities by the Dads for Life movement. Blogfathers! is not affiliated with MCYS, Dads for Life or the Dads@Communities initiative; we’re just publishing this because we thought the Flying Dutchman made a very good point and we want to see if we can follow up with a skeletal outline of what dads can do to teach failure. So all observations and opinions expressed within this series are very much the author’s own unless otherwise stated. And please, if you can add to this with your own thoughts and experiences, do share them with us in the comments.

You can read the other three pieces here:

By the looks of the title and how I ended off the last article, this lesson isn’t for your child; it’s for you, Mr. Dad. I’ll mostly be sharing from personal experience, though, so do let me know in the comments if you have an opinion to share of your own.

Why So Serious?

It’s an accepted notion that men are naturally more aggressive and competitive; we’re supposed to be the hunters, after all. Be it hormonal differentiation or societal grooming, by the time we’re fathers, it’s become instinct.

It will show in our parenting as well. We play with our kids more aggressively, we push our kids to do more (and do it better), and we tend to take the hard, disciplinarian approach more readily than our better halves. It gets the job done, but it also creates fear if we’re not careful, and in the long term it affects your child’s ability to deal with, and accept failure.

For the less academically inclined among us (including me, of course), it shows most explicitly if we think back to the days when our own fathers (or mothers, even) will have no qualms digging out the cane if we came back home with red ink all over our report books (ah yes, those were the days). We may have an assortment of immediate responses to how our fathers dealt with us in the old days – we may feel guilty, we may retaliate, we may feel our dads don’t love us, we may grow even more fearful should we fail again in the next round – but at the very moment where we are being reprimanded or punished, we weren’t actually thinking about doing better. That very message our dads were trying to drive into us in the first place gets lost in all the anger and frustration he’s displaying, and it isn’t until after the storm has calmed that the thought of doing better presents itself as a solution that we may not even be inclined to take up.

Beware of Repercussions

There’s another twist; I’ve mentioned before in a previous post that kindness begets kindness, which is a phenomenon that very much applies here. In the context of non-verbal communication, our emotions will tend to get reflected back on us with an equal and appropriate response; if we’re happy, our family is happy (my wife always tells me that). If we show frustration, our actions may well frustrate the people around us as well. And if we’re angry with our child, be prepared for rebellion.

The solution, though, is in every Maths assessment book, school workbook, test and exam paper that your kid will be struggling to complete: SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Getting angry is not going to solve the problem, not for you, and most definitely not for your kid. Don’t just ask your kid, “What happened? Why like this? What went wrong?”; I previously mentioned that kids might not be able to identify their own mistakes. Instead, you’ll do better to find out with him what went wrong.

The most productive thing you can do is roll up your sleeves and go through his work with him; it’s a perfect opportunity for a father to instill tactics and strategies to conquer schoolwork, impart skills and life concepts into his learning, and ultimately inspire your kid to do better through your own experience in the Singapore education system. But if time is not a luxury for that kind of commitment, at the very least let him know not to feel down about it. He’s already got bad grades to deal with, and the last thing he needs is to deal with is the fear of failing in meeting your expectations.

Put Aside Your Expectations

Above all else, you need to learn to put aside any expectations you have of your child’s development, and this is especially tough, seeing as we’ve lived most of our own lives guided by what society expects of us (the Singapore education system is a hotbed of debate over just this point, as pointed out by Monica Lim’s very eloquent post on the subject). Sure, we want our child to do well in life, but we also have to remember our child is growing up a whole generation apart from us, and times are different with every generation. The problems are going to be different, the environment is going to be more complex, and much society’s expectations are likely going to be far removed from what you or I are facing now.

With that in mind, we can only act as guides, not dictators. We have to trust our children to set their own benchmarks and have faith in their knowing what they can do best in the environment they are growing up with. Really, that trust is the best gift you can give to your child; it is a gift of independent thinking, which in turn is a core attribute in encouraging creativity, arguably the one trait in our .

You want the best for your kid, then be the best dad for your kid, instead of showing him what you’re like at your worst.

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