Of boosting the morale and coping with failure

The niece and the son, both always looking for something new and exciting, were elated to discover a new game to play. It was a word-game I loved to play as a child and even today. After teaching them the basic guidelines and rules, I sat down to work, satisfied to listen to happy, animated chatter from the sibling duo in the adjacent room. They seemed to like the game too, I thought satisfactorily.

A few minutes later, silence had descended in the room and my niece emerged out. A clear winner writ on her face, she complained of R not taking it all well. I wasn't really surprised. It was routine. In the few times that I had played board or card games with R, each time he lost a round of the game, I had to double up as a counselor to make him see beyond the win and loss in a game.

I went in to find him sullen-faced, disturbed and about to burst into tears. A slight nudge was all it took for the dam to burst. What overflowed were a set of complicated feelings that threw me off guard.

"I always lose in every game. I'm such a loser. I'm no good. I don't like myself. There's no point in pursuing anything."

The meltdown was by the far the worst I had seen. I tried empathizing, I tried reasoning out. I thought reminding him about his accolades would cheer him up but for each reminder, he came up with self-critical responses such as:

"So what? That was no big deal"

"Oh, that was just a school-level prize"

"But, I won just a couple of races"

I realized that I wasn't getting anywhere. For R, his recent loss seemed bigger than all of those previous wins. After a long pep talk, the tears dried up. Dinner was a quiet affair. By the time it was bedtime, R was in a far better mood and had seemed to put the storm (now stirred up in my heart) behind him.

Although a kid, R was only human to experience the emotions of despondency because he couldn't see beyond the situation. It was a natural reaction. Or was it? While there was nothing unusual about dealing with an upset R because he lost a game, this was the first time he made sweeping statements about how that made him feel so bad about himself. Could it then be a sign of a low self-esteem or was I reading too much into this? R has been a happy and confident kid and I've had no reason so far to believe otherwise. Yet, I struggled to view the incident objectively and not link it to my own nature because the similarities were too stark for me to ignore.

Even today, I find it difficult to accept accolades and praises that come my way. I look for excuses and go out of the way to explain how the feat was nothing extraordinary and that I probably got lucky considering how there are so many others who are far more talented. I readily believe anyone who points out my weaknesses but I do not celebrate enough the strengths I might possess.

If protecting the child from failure is disastrous, not praising the child enough can be equally damaging. While I had been waxing eloquent to R about losing gracefully, I realized perhaps I wasn't pumping up his ego enough. In the age of extra smart kids who talk and think ahead of their ages, I have been overzealous to throw in the lessons of modesty.

Interestingly, as I pondered over this, my thoughts went to those parents who do not shy away from showcasing their kids' achievements over social media platforms nor hesitate to bring it up in a face-to-face conversation. I wonder if some amount (just the right amount) of publicly bragging about your child's achievements in the child's presence is one way of boosting his/her confidence.

I'm proud of my son's many strengths and I've been vocal about it even when there are no medals to show. Perhaps, I need to spell it out, make a fuss about it between us and also in front of others at times. Knowing myself, the former will be easier than the latter but I can surely start with family and close friends.


Have you dealt with something similar? What has been your mantra? 

Linking this post to Nabanita's #MommyTalks


  1. Hello Uma,

    What a beautiful orator and story teller you are! Congrats! This post has forced me to reach out to you in the form of comments. I struggle with this a lot with my 2 kids as well. What I have learnt (the hard way) was that humility does not come naturally - not these days. While I love appreciating my children, I am so not the one to flaunt on social media. I have tried using a positive in my kid to help understand where they need work. So, when my oldest cries easily (over small things), I start with "Kanna you have the most generous and caring heart of all people I've known (this is true, albeit may be exaggerated as my mom comes pretty close to him or more), but breaking down this easily might not help you feel better and may work against what you are intending". I know this is not easily digested or a mantra that would make things better. But, I definitely see him get out of his sadness quicker. IT is very much a work in progress. That said, my youngest is a whole another ball game. I am on trial-and-error mode with him still.

    R cannot turn out anything less than amazing with great parents like you guys. Good luck and I will await the post with whatever mantra you discover to make this easier on us, parents.


    1. Sindhu, welcome to my space and thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful comment! Thank you also for the warm praise for my writing. Makes me very glad.
      You've rightly pointed out that a positive reinforcement can work wonders. Your kanna(s) are truly blessed to have a mother like you.
      Parenting is always on a trial and error mode. We need to find out what will work and what might not.
      Thank you once again for reading and commenting :)

  2. I can so relate to your post and also to your feelings , esp the ones about not being able to bask in the praises heaped on you for your achievements. But, it would really help if you 'bragged' a bit about R to others, in his presence. It will surely help him feel good about his strengths and also accept his weaknesses gracefully. I am learning about it all nowadays as I work with my 7 yo nephew these days and am experimenting with such tactics to boost his morale and also get work done!

    1. You think so too, Shilpa? As a family, we are very low-profile and I've been brought up similarly. It may or may not have a direct bearing on my parenting style but we all learn by trial and error :) Thanks, Shilpa for the assurance!

  3. Each child is different, Uma :) I'm all for moderation in these things. Praise and criticism are equally important because that's reality. It may be a bit tough for R to understand these things though, given his age. Most maturity develops only in the mid-teens I would say. Failure isn't easy for kids to either accept or learn from. A gentle nudge here and always praising the effort will help, I think.

    1. Teens is when they start hating the parents, no? hehe. Jokes aside, I hope they realize sooner or later that it's harmful to relate winning to self-esteem.
      Thank you, Shailaja! <3

  4. Uma I didnt know that R could make such comments like i am no good etc etc I dont like myself!!( my God)...he should be taught to take up failures too..of course he is still young ...but he needs to be told that failures are not anything that one should be ashamed of...

  5. Enjoyed reading your post, Uma. It sounds profound parenting style. Every kid is unique in their nature, I suppose.


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