For most of my childhood and adolescence and even for some of my twenties, I had never experienced what it was to fail. I’d only ever known success. I thought that success was an indication of how hard I worked, and I equated failure with laziness. I hadn’t failed a single exam. Therefore, when I did finally fail something; namely my driving test, my world collapsed, and I could not deal with the failure. It stopped me driving for a time and even when I went on to fail another two attempts, I still wasn’t prepared for the humiliation of failure. I did eventually pass but I have since given up driving and I believe that part of the reason for doing so was because I never believed that I was any good at it.
My own experience taught me that how we respond to failure is far more important than the act of failure. Thus, I believe that we need to teach our children that failure is a necessary part of life. This might go against those parents who put their children under pressure to succeed in everything. Yet failure is in fact, an integral part of success. A temporary setback can benefit your child, as it affords the opportunity to teach your child how to bounce back from it and cope with the disappointment of failure. By failure, children develop key characteristics they will need to thrive, such as emotional resilience, creative thinking, and the ability to collaborate.
How do we go about teaching our children how to manage failure and understand that it is is a vital stepping-stone to success?
One way in which we can help our children learn how to respond to failure, is through the process known as dashed expectations. Simple things, such as not always receiving a much-wished for toy, not winning at a board game, not being able to go somewhere that was planned. All of these teach children that we do not always get what we want in life, and sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control.
Encouraging your child to increase their failure rate is the best way to increase their learning and develop their success in any field. Any skill requires an initial period of incompetence in order to become competent. In order to become good at something you must start out being bad. Chess has often been described as the perfect teaching tool because of all the positive effects it has on children’s logic, problem solving and strategic planning. It also requires discipline and concentration.
Children learn a great deal from what parents model to them in their behaviour. It is always a good idea to tell your children of your own failures in life and how you managed to overcome them. We may take it for granted that success requires hard work and overcoming of obstacles, but this is not necessarily evident to children. If you take time to explain your experience of a learning curve, it will help them connect hard work with future rewards.
Much research over the years has focused on the importance of praising children in place of punishment. However, we need to be careful not to over praise. Explain early on in life that everyone has different talents and that not everyone can get a reward. There is a need to be realistic in our parenting rather than over exaggerating their skills and achievements. As much as we want to make our children happy, then we need to understand the importance of future happiness as an adult. Imagine the impact on an average-achieving child who has always been told by their parents that they are the best at everything. What happens when they go into the world either at University or into the wider world, to discover that they are no where near as good as they were made to believe? I also find it helpful to tell my children that I am not always going to get things right as a parent and sometimes I need to accept my own failures.
There is a great saying that, “ Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” When we teach our children that failure is a fundamental principle in learning, then we teach them how to succeed.
2 thoughts on “Learning To Fail”
This is an incredible (and much needed post). You mentioned something that I find really important – as a parent we need to be comfortable with recognising and voicing it out when we fail. Thank you for this wonderful thought-heart opening piece 👨👩👧👧
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Thank you so much for all your kindness and support. I feel it is so important to make our children aware that we are not experts at parenting and we are just trying to do our best but we will sometimes get it wrong. It means there is more of an open dialogue with my children as they get older.
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