Annie and I sat on a bench after school while our kids played. I could tell something was up because Annie watched Lucas like a hawk. And he kept running away from the other kids—definitely not typical Lucas behavior. Sure, he could be intense at times, but he always played with a crew of boys and was generally a happy kid. “What’s going on?” I asked my friend as we watched Lucas kick a pile of wood chips for no apparent reason. She leaned toward me, lowering her voice. “He studied all winter for the accelerated math program and found out today he didn’t make it. He’s pretty bummed.” I nodded, thinking. “His best friend made it, so it hurts even more,” she added. “And his friend said he didn’t even study!” I winced, imagining how Lucas felt. And Annie. It’s hard when it seems your child’s hard work doesn’t pay off.
After a moment of silence, I said, “Wow. I’m so sorry Lucas didn’t make the program.” I knew Lucas saw himself as a failure in that moment and my heart went out to him and Annie. When all that effort doesn’t pay off, it just feels horrible. But has it all been for naught? As moms, we know there are definitely benefits to failure, but how do you convey this to your child? When the dust settles, give these options a try. Here are 3 ways to respond when your child’s hard work doesn’t pay off.
1. Empathize with him.
When your child’s hard work doesn’t pay off, letting him know you recognize his disappointment can go a long way toward encouraging him to keep trying. It can certainly make the sting of rejection or failure less painful. If, for example, he realizes that karate is a lot harder than he expected, despite hours of training at the dojo, he might want to quit. But explain you’ve already paid for the session and recognize his frustration: “Karate isn’t easy, and I can tell you’re trying hard. I’m sorry this isn’t going the way you wanted.”
2. Help her see the benefits.
Let’s say your daughter practiced soccer all summer, dribbling around the back yard and shooting goals between two pines. But then fall came, and she either didn’t make the team or ended up playing defense rather than offense. All that time working toward her goal didn’t actually go to waste! The discipline she had training and practicing is a skill she’ll use for the rest of her life. Try to point this out: “You practiced so much! I really admire your work ethic. It’s going to come in handy this year with your schoolwork.”
3. Point out natural abilities and developing abilities.
Let’s face it: Some kids can ace a test without studying and others can make a team without practicing (a six-foot-tall seventh grader will make the volleyball team simply because she has great genes). According to licensed professional counselor Allison Edwards, natural ability plays a part and sometimes things are just easier for some people. Point out what comes easily for your child and ask him to think about how others might feel about his natural artistic ability, for example. Remind your kids that by working hard at something that doesn’t come naturally, they’re gaining incredibly useful skills that perhaps other kids aren’t: resilience, grit, and determination.
Remind your kids that by working hard at something that doesn’t come naturally, they’re gaining incredibly useful skills that perhaps other kids aren’t: resilience, grit, and determination.
How do you keep him or her motivated when your child’s hard work doesn’t pay off?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
What big goal do you want to accomplish in the next few months?