Teaching Your Children How to Lose

My daughter wasn’t crying because she lost the spelling bee. She was crying because she got knocked out in the second round. She’s smart. That’s her thing. So missing the word tofu embarrassed her. To make it worse, she knew every word after that.

The tears started just as I was tucking her into bed. “I didn’t want to win the whole thing,” she said, “I just didn’t want to miss one so early.” What was I supposed to say? Better luck next time? Just keep trying? No one likes tofu?

We spend so much time as parents preparing our kids for success that sometimes we do a poor job of preparing them for failure. We help them with homework, drive them to soccer practice and even arrange play dates to help them thrive relationally.

Yet, no matter how much we set up our kids to win, sometimes they are going to lose. That’s just life in a fallen world. Despite their best effort, they will sometimes fail tests, get clobbered in soccer games and struggle to make friends.

How should we react in moments like this? How can we help them deal with disappointment while also preparing them to handle failure as adults?

Thankfully, the night of the spelling bee, God led the conversation exactly where it needed to go, and in the process, I discovered three things I will repeat every time my kids are dealing with failure.

  1. Empathize

Our kids need to know that we see their pain, and we care. When my daughters are hurting, my first instinct is to fix it. I want to give them advice, correct them or coach them how to do better next time.   However, in moments like these, I’m learning that the first thing they need is kindness. So when I didn’t know what to say, I just hugged my daughter and told her, “I know it’s hard and I’m sorry.”

  1. Affirm their identity.

Kids need to know that their value isn’t based on their performance. They are loved because they are children of God. Failure messes with our identity because we all tend to build our self-image around activities that give us affirmation.

That’s why it’s twice as hard when the smart kid gets knocked out of the spelling bee, or the athlete loses a game. A big part of our identity is based on areas of life where we excel.

That night, I reminded my daughter that she is a child of the king, adored by her Dad in heaven and her dad on earth and no spelling bee could change that. I told her that her worth doesn’t come from what she does, but whose she is. She is a daughter of God.

  1. Talk about kingdom.

Our kids need to discover a redemptive view of suffering in the small things to prepare them to navigate more challenging struggles in life. That’s why we need to point them back to the Bible in small moments like these.

Earlier that day, my daughter and I had been talking about Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (NLT). It had just popped into my head, and I felt prompted to share it with her. At the time I had no idea why.

When the spelling bee drama unfolded, however, I had a pretty good idea what God was up to. I mentioned the proverb again and suggested, “Maybe this is an opportunity to trust God.”

Later she confessed, “As soon as you read that verse to me, I knew it was about the spelling bee. I knew it was about me trusting God.”

I reminded her that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). That means sometimes He says no to a desire of our heart because He has a better yes waiting for us in the future. It means sometimes He lets us go through hardship so we can comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). It means that even bad things that happen can give us an opportunity to minister to others and advance the gospel (Phil 1:12).

And that, of course, is the ultimate win.

By reframing my daughter’s loss with a kingdom perspective, God helped me remind her that her life is part of a bigger story and that her purpose goes far beyond winning a spelling bee. At the end of the night, it was that part of conversation that made the biggest difference. She finally had peace about the situation, and soon afterwards, drifted off to sleep.

When it comes right down to it, God’s definition of winning and losing is very different than ours. After all, we follow a Savior who died on a cross. The more we can help our kids see their failures and frustrations from His point of view, the more we can guarantee they will continually experience the only victory that counts.

Need a Parenting Do-Over?

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I don’t know what 2015 was like in your home, but in mine, there are definitely some things I’d like to do over.  Times I became frustrated and snapped at my kids.  Times I let our family get overcommitted and exhausted.  Times I worked too much, prayed too little and neglected the things that really matter.

How about you?  If you could have a do-over from 2015, what would it be?

The great news is that our God is a God of second chances, and third and fourth and fifth and so on.  No matter what your parenting was like last year, no matter what mistakes you made, it’s a brand new day.  Not because it’s a new year, but because you’re a new creation, and every day is new with Jesus.

Don’t listen to the voices of failure and regret.  Don’t listen to the voices that say things will never change.  Listen to God’s voice.  Listen to His promises of hope, a hope that reminds us that every day is a fresh start with grace.

So, this year, don’t commit to being a perfect parent.  Commit to being a forgiven parent, a growing parent, a dependent parent, a desperate-for-God-parent, and day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, you will raise kids who will become desperate for God themselves.

 

 

Free Family Christmas Devotions

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Have you ever lost a gift under your Christmas tree? Sometimes in all the excitement of opening presents, one package gets shoved under the back of the tree and forgotten.

When the gift is found, however, it may be the most exciting present of all. Why?  Because just when we think that Christmas is over, we discover there is something more.

I believe God has something more for us too.  Yet in the busyness of the Christmas season it’s easy to miss it.  The gift God has for our family this Christmas is an opportunity to draw closer to His Son.

Yet, to do that in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we have to be intentional.

That’s why I wrote God’s Big Christmas Adventure, a new family devotional book you can download for free.  This family advent guide follows the same format of the God’s Big Adventure books but is written to help your family stay focused on Jesus this Christmas.

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