We all know someone who has had the misfortune of growing up without balance. By balance, I mean the ability to deal effectively with both success and failure. The type of person who, ironically, despite having won what one would regard as some kind of genetic or social lottery, seems to teeter too easily when the chips are either down or way up.
Homeschoolers pride themselves on raising their children to have what past generations called “gumption.” Survivors, with integrity intact. That, surely, is not something that happens by the way, even when school influences don’t have to be counter-acted. Character-building is just that: construction; work. It is best done by those in possession of the plans, and who care the most about the project.
It seems to me that young people who have lived in an environment which reflects that human worth (both their own and that of others) is based on the intrinsic value of the human soul, not the prizing of human capabilities, are those best able to develop this gumption. Years of affirmation of personal value, irrespective of performance, builds the type of healthy self-esteem which enables such children to treat success as a partner and failure as a teacher. They are more likely to be equipped, as adults, to resist self-destructive goal-chasing and the inability to take risks or to try new things.
Neither failure nor success should be strangers to our children. Being allowed to fail, in a place where his self-worth is shielded, teaches the child not to fear failure. Repeated opportunity, teaches him that failure is not inevitable, nor permanent. In the same way, the experience of success is crucial to a healthy self-concept. Yet, over-recognition of ability at the expense of relational expectations, from parents, may create the association of self-worth with performance. Balance is key. As home educators, we have the privilege and opportunity to introduce these strengthening experiences to our young ones in the most appropriate ways.
Games: practising winning and losing
It’s a good idea to introduce competition to children gently, when they can understand and demonstrate the concept of taking turns. Apart from the bonding experience when parents and children play games together – all kinds, from sporting games to board games – this time introduces to the young mind the, perhaps at first frightening concept, that “losing” is not only something that happens in the disciplinary process with mom or dad! It’s a social construct: something humans do to build friendship and maintain society, and something that must be borne with patience and dignity. And it has nothing to do with how much he is loved or valued! Parents should allow wins often, but intersperse them with losses. Grace will be built more slowly with some children than others. (I remember a particular child of mine and the frequent shedding of tears over Snakes and Ladders!)
Not only do these times bring us closer to our children, but they prepare them for friendships with others. There are few things more difficult to watch than a sore loser upsetting the social apple cart. It also encourages the lost art of conversation: that connection between people which is sustained through a fundamental and rehearsed respect for turn-taking – something Gen Z desperately needs to rediscover.
We all would love to see our children finding a particular success in this life. Some of them will achieve greatness, as that has been defined over the course of human history, and some will have quieter victories, of no meaner success. Our job is to model that quality of which success is but a shadow: contentment; and to bestow the gift of perspective. As Kipling said, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.” Winning and losing are tools. Teach worth.