How to Help A Child When They Fail

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My daughter is a stellar student in English/Language Arts. She went out for the spelling bee once.

Proud of her for getting involved a little more outside her immediate groups, we supported her although we knew she really wasn't the type to get up in front of people with comfort and worried about her success.

Her younger sister could tell right away that our star was nervous. I was nervous myself, but must have also been so excited that I either didn't notice, or discounted the signs, so that I wouldn't be more anxious than I already was.

She bombed. 

Yes, it's true. She flubbed up. It was a simple word. And it was quite early in the game. It was awful.

She had to sit there for the next hour listening to all the other contestants compete with one another spelling words she could easily have spelled in her sleep, we wondered what her first words would be. We wondered what her reactions were to her own error.

When the contest was over and the children were applauded, we could tell her attitude was sour. She was an A student in English. She was top in her class. We knew she was not taking lightly the fact that she just blew her chance at proving her smarts and couldn't make it as far as she knew she could have.

We hoped that her participation certificate would cheer her up, but it didn't…she barely took it when we handed it to her. She barely smiled, and worst was she just wanted to dodge out and hide under a rock (or maybe in a locker if it were closer).

What did we do to help her? The only things we could:

1. ENCOURAGED HER: We reminded her that this event was more about who she was and what she did, over whether she was a winner or loser. We pointed out that she made it to an honorable level, and not only because she was brave enough to go there. She had proved her knowledge by being invited to participate. She had proved to herself also, that she was strong because she summonsed the courage to be on stage in front of a couple hundred people.

2. WE EMPATHIZED AND SHARED OUR EXPERIENCES: She was not alone. There were other kids there who got nervous and let her mouth get ahead of their mind, and we'd made big flubs too and it isn't the end of the world.

3. LOOKED FOR THE LESSON: We asked her what she learned.

She was appreciative of our support and positive encouragement, and we never teased her or mentioned anything again about her time there that night…nor did she ever go out for a spelling bee again.

I think she found the lesson.

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