I taught my son to fail. What are you teaching your children?

I taught my son how to fail well

On first hearing his words were an insult: ‘you taught me how to fail well’. Once I got past my hurt pride and could listen to the rest of what he was saying, I realised these words were a compliment to my parenting. It took me to move my focus from the word ‘fail’, to hear the words ‘taught … well’.

When he was little and we were at the beach, he loved to walk in my footsteps. His little legs leaping from one footprint to another as he tried to match my steps.

Now as a young man he was telling me how he was practising what he had seen me do. He was walking in my footsteps.

Until he made the comment about failing well and we discussed it, the lesson I had taught my son of how to fail had been through role modelling. Over the years he had watched me write, produce courses, learn how to use websites and manage the administrative aspects of business. He had watched my lack of success by worldly standards and my desire. He saw me maintain my passion, problem solve, learn from the experience and most importantly get up to try again.

I was completely unaware that through this process I was teaching him to pursue his dreams and showing him that failure along the way was both okay and a necessary part of learning and moving forward to achieve the dream.

This was a good affirmation for my parenting. It showed that I had changed and was practising what I preached. As previously I hadn’t done this well.

I taught my daughter how to put herself down

In the early days at the end of my marriage my self-esteem was battered and I put myself down in both attitude and words. When I spoke to my children I used words of affirmation trying to build their self- esteem. I was unaware of the incongruency of my role modelling and how I was trying to parent my children. It wasn’t until I heard my daughter describing herself with words she had heard not from me to her, but from me to me. Instead of being inspired to love herself and see herself positively through my affirmation of her, she had watched me at the mirror. She had watched me respond to mistakes by putting myself down, and that was the example she was following.

What are you teaching your children?

Today’s blog is not structured in the usual six steps of ‘how’ … but is a challenge to reflect on what you are teaching your children.

Whether you realise it or not, whether you are intentional in what you teach or not, your children are learning how to do life from you. They are walking behind you, watching you, sometimes listening to you, stepping where you have stepped.

Your children will learn from you

  • how to care for themselves. This includes respecting themselves, practising healthy behaviours and their self-esteem
  • how to relate to others. This includes showing respect, being forgiving and having personal boundaries
  • how to manage their emotions. This includes naming their emotions, recognising the impact of their emotions and having strategies to deal with them
  • how to learn. This includes their attitude to learning, understanding their way of learning and putting it into practice
  • how to cope with challenge. This includes problem-solving, their view of challenge and resilience
  • how to manage growing life. This includes prioritising/time management, understanding consequences and specific life skills
  • how to pursue their dreams. This includes their view of the future, belief in them self and how to fail

Putting legs on it

If you would like some help to assess your role modelling, click here to download a copy of: ‘Your children are watching you: 6 questions to assess your role modelling’


Your children are watching you. What are they seeing? 6 questions to assess your role modelling

Children learn by observing their parents and how they do life. If you are a single parent then you are ‘the’ role model – no pressure! You have no control over the other parent, but you have power over how you think and how you act. You choose the role model your children will see.

single parent London Scout resized

Parent’s as role models

If you type in ‘parents as role models’ as an internet search, you will bring up lots of hits discussing the important role parents have in being a role model for their children. Research is being conducted into parent’s role modelling affecting:

  • eating habits
  • teenage drinking behaviour
  • teenage violence
  • fitness
  • teenage driving habits
  • children’s friendships

Parents are considered the foremost role models for their children, even with the increasing effects of peer pressure in teenage years.

What can I model?

Role modelling includes:

  • showing children love, understanding and respect
  • being aware and taking an interest in children’s activities
  • communicating well including how you manage conflict
  • valuing your health
  • being positive (about yourself, learning etc)
  • using problem solving skills when confronted with a challenge
  • practicing forgiveness and apologising when you weren’t the perfect parent

Children will learn from how you relate to others and manage your emotions. For example, Johnny Lee Clary, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, describes how he learnt racist hate from his father.

Practice what you preach

Parents need to practice what they preach, otherwise it creates confusion in children. Do you remember as a child the pain and confusion of being told off by a parent for swearing, then been overwhelmed by the injustice when the parent did the same thing.  Parents need to model the kind of behavior they want in their children, not just talk about it.

As a parent, writing that scares me! That’s a lot of pressure to have my stuff together so I can lead by example.

I know, by my personal example, the difference it makes in the lives of my kids. Since I’ve put time into improving my emotional health with counseling, practicing boundaries, taking steps towards fulfilling my dreams – my kids have noticed the difference. They comment that I am happier, more calm and that’s translates into a happier, calmer household. Previously, when I was overloaded, I would take it out on the kids, and the tone of our house was set by the kind of day I had experienced: bad day – spaghetti on toast for tea, little communication except for the inevitable temper tantrum (by me!!!!!), and pushing the kids away emotionally.

Be your best

It’s scary as a single parent to realise how much of the role modeling will come from us, so we need to work on ourselves to be the best parent we can be. That’s the reason I created ‘One Together’; to help single parents be their best, give their best and grow their best family.

Putting legs on it

Do the following quiz which is designed for single parents to identify any areas that need attention by answering yes or no to the questions.

  1. Are your actions and your words aligned? Do you act out what you are speaking to your children?
  1. Are your words and actions towards yourself positive? Answer no if you put yourself down in your speech by saying you are stupid, clumsy or no-one likes you.
  1. Are you dealing with your emotional baggage? Answer no if you struggle with anger, guilt, shame, fear, envy?
  1. Are you pursing your passions and purpose?
  1. Do you relate to others in a healthy way? Break this down into:
  • Do you practice forgiveness towards others? Answer no if you want revenge.
  • Do you have strong boundaries? Answer no if you have problems with either being a door mat or people pleasing.
  • Do you have the support of safe people? Safe people love unconditionally, no matter what. They show grace while speaking the truth. Their support encourages and comforts you, while holding you accountable. Your safe people may include family, friends or even a professional counsellor.  Answer yes if you have this network.
  1. Do you solve problems with healthy strategies? Answer no if you are burying them under work (workaholic), alcohol, drugs or rescuing other people?

No answers identify areas you may need to work on to parent well and be a better role model for your children. Choose one area you have identified to start changing your attitudes or behaviour. You can find more information on these areas on the website and in future blogs.
Do you want more than just to survive single parenting? Do you want to be your best and flourish as a family? Click here for ‘Successful Single Parenting’ chapter
Resources and references

The Australian Parenting Network, Being a role model for your child  http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/role-modelling.html

SCAN Parents as role models https://www.scanva.org/support-for-parents/parent-resource-center-2/parents-as-role-models/

Huff Post Parents, 10 ways to become the parent – and role model- your kids really need http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-suzanne-gelb/want-to-raise-awesome-kids-10-ways-to-become-a-_b_5734918.html

Photo credit: London Scout www.unplash.com