We all want our children to do well in whatever they do. However, we tend to overlook teaching them about failure and how to bounce back from it when we constantly hover and watch out for them. Our children then see failing as the end when they encounter failure rather than it merely being a stepping stone and learning experience. Not learning how to cope with failure can lead to our children giving up easily and being afraid of trying new things in fear of failure.
Although parents may have good intentions to help their children succeed, not allowing them to fail and learn from their mistakes can have negative consequences in the future. Our children would become more focused on the end goal and what grades they received rather than exploring other options. They focus more on memorising and acing their examinations rather than the learning experience and understanding the concepts fully. When they do encounter failure, which is inevitable, they will be less willing to try again and give up easily. This is probably the opposite of what we want our children to do.
Teaching them how to get back up again after failure will impart the value of resilience and perseverance. Failing should no longer have its negative connotation but be seen as merely a stage in our life, something we can learn and improve from. Then they do not give up after coming face to face with failure but think creatively and try other options.
In fact, resilience and learning to bounce back can also help children to improve their grades and do well in school. They would work harder and practise the subjects or topics they are weaker in, motivated to improve and get better from their mistakes rather than disliking the subject and not wanting to work on it at all.
“The ability to tolerate imperfection – that something is not going exactly your way – is often times more important to learn than whatever the content subject is.”
“Building that skill set is necessary for children to be able to become more independent and succeed in future endeavours, whether it’s personal goals, academic goals, or just learning how to effectively deal with other people.“ Dr Amanda Mintzer, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute
So how do we teach our children to look at failure positively? There’s no guide that will apply and work on every child. Ultimately, you will have to decide when to step in and help if the mistake is too big for them to handle at a young age. However, there are ways to teach your child to embrace failure as a step to success.
Stepping back and allowing them to make mistakes
Parents would have the natural urge to protect their children from failure and ensure that they do not encounter obstacles in their life but in order to teach them to be resilient, we need to hold back from always hovering over them and paving the way for them. We should be their guide rather than always helping them to avoid making mistakes and failing.
We can be there as support as they try to find their way around things, allowing them to make mistakes. Only when they make mistakes will they be able to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and understand themselves in the process as well.
Thinking creatively on how they can move on from their failures
You can guide your child to think of solutions to his failures and what he could have done differently. This helps him practise his creative problem solving through his failures. Ask your child what he could do next time to improve and attain success.
For example, if your son failed his mathematics CA, you could ask him what he could do to do better for the next examination, such as practising more questions at home or checking his calculations at the end of the examination before handing it in. Coming up with solutions by himself will motivate him to try again using different ways and methods.
Being a role model with how we respond to failure
Our children emulate our words and actions and therefore, our outlook and response on failure must be what we want our children to develop as well. Through your own failures and disappointments, you can show your child that failing is inevitable and everyone experiences it.
You could even share stories of your own failures, allowing your child to understand that life is not always smooth sailing and does not always go according to plan. When we encounter failure, we can get back up by trying again with hard work and perseverance.
A study by Kyla Haimovitz, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, and Carol Dweck, who pioneered research on mindsets, found that the more parents believed that failure was debilitating, the more likely their children were to see them as concerned with their performing outcomes and grades rather than their learning and improvement.
The study found that parents who viewed failure positively were more likely to ask their children what they learnt from the test, what they could still learn and whether they needed more guidance from the teacher. On the other hand, those who viewed failure negatively were worried about their children’s abilities in mathematics and were more likely to comfort their children by saying they could not be talented in all subjects. When we react negatively to our children failing a test or examination, it gives our children the impression that we only focus on the score they receive and only see grades as a measure of success.
One important mindset our children should adopt is that they can become smarter through hard work and resilience. If they are weak in certain topics or subjects, they should continue working hard and practising in order to understand them better. Failing a test does not mean they will never excel in it because they are ‘bad’ at it. There are many other possible factors that could contribute to it rather than just being weaker in the subject.
Encouraging them to try new things
Rather than focusing on his performance, you should ask your child about his experience and whether he enjoyed it. This shifts the main focus to new experiences and teaches him to expose himself to new and exciting things rather than trying things out just because he thinks he can do well at it. Otherwise, your child will be anxious and afraid to try new things for the fear of being bad at it.
Assure your child that he does not have to excel immediately in everything he tries but rather, he will slowly improve with practice. We should not restrict our children from trying things they are interested in, for by failing and making mistakes, they learn about themselves and the world around them as well.
It is easy to view and respond to failure negatively, especially with the great emphasis placed on results in Singapore but taking these measures to help guide your child through failure and changing his outlook on it would be extremely beneficial to him in the future.