Do you immediately run to the rescue and try to save your child from failing? Many parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors, and school systems seem to believe that failure is simply not an option for a child these days.
Perhaps because the idea of failure is often associated with pain and loss, parents naturally want to spare their child any suffering. It’s certainly a normal response to want to help your boy or girl achieve whatever they set out to do, but without failure your child’s chances of succeeding in the future diminish. Without failure, success rarely happens. Learning how to cope with disappointment, anger, frustration and sadness are a part of growing into a responsible person – whether you’re a child or an adult.
More important that the actual failure of not passing a test, not making the team, not being chosen for a part in the school play, not spelling a word correctly in a spelling bee, is learning how to cope with disappointment and embarrassment.
How your child responds to feelings of anger, frustration, embarrassment, sadness or low self-esteem will mostly depend on their age and maturity. Children can be taught positive coping skills that help them move past an uncomfortable event. Children also see how parents and others around them handle stress and failure. If we get angry, bossy, inconsolable, and don’t accept responsibility for our own actions, we teach our children to do the same.
Failure at one thing has often opened the door to accomplishments in other areas. Your child may not be accomplished enough to make a sports team, but he or she can run circles around others in math or science. Even though you’ve told your child they can sing like an angel since they were old enough to complete a sentence, others may find that he or she can’t really carry a tune. Your child most likely will not get the lead in the next school musical. And that’s O.K. She may discover that her real talent is creating costumes out of raw material, or he may find out that nobody can build a set out of cardboard better than he can. Encouragement and praise for what your child can achieve goes a long way in helping them understand and deal with what they can’t achieve.
What if my child isn’t great at something now, but with practice and diligence they could become excellent? Are you saying they should move on to something else if they fail at first try? Not at all!
Failure at first try, or second try, or many tries, can often motivate someone to practice harder, study longer, attempt a different approach or in other words – apply themselves more. Children can learn more about problem solving through failure. Help your child evaluate what went wrong and how they can prevent it from occurring again. That’s a lot different than protecting them from experiencing the failure in the first place. Through trying and failing, then trying again and succeeding, our kids learn about patience, perseverance and the feeling of pride in their accomplishments.
Failure is not the opposite of success. “Failure is an event, not a person.” (Zig Ziglar) You’ve watched your child learn to sit up by his or her self, crawl, walk and eat with a spoon. All along the way, your child had to experience trial and error before learning how to get it right. Did they ever stop trying because they failed when trying? Every time there was a fall or setback- most likely there was encouragement to try again. On the other side of that spectrum, parents who catch their child every time they lose their balance prevent them from finding their balance.
Success isn’t always about “winning.” It’s often about finding another path.
It may be painful to watch your daughter or son have to deal with an unpleasant or painful experience – but it’s something we all have to go through. Bad relationships can help us value good relationships. Not being chosen can help us strike out on our own and discover the joy of self-reliance.
about.com.childcare offers these tips for helping your child turn their failure into a lesson for success.
- Help your child identify the emotions she feels and express those in an acceptable way. When your child is not successful, whether in the classroom or on the ball field, parents (or any adult caregiver for that matter) should be available to help them work through the emotions.
- Give him an opportunity to talk about why he thinks things didn’t go the way he wanted or expected them to go. Even youngsters can express their feelings, and one of the best things a parent can do is listen. Your child might even provide some insight into what happened that you were not aware of.
- Provide age-appropriate activities that match your child’s interests and skills. Too often, parents lose their way in expecting too much of a child at too young of an age. It really is okay if your child can’t do a toe-touch in first grade or is unable to hit the ball off a tee at age 4.
- Let your child know that winning isn’t the most important thing. Give as much praise for his effort and his attitude as you do for a winning outcome.
- Talk to your child about his strengths–the things that you observe as his positive traits. Conversations such as this can help build self-esteem in even a very young child.
- Keep your expectations for your child reasonable and realistic. Don’t expect your eight year old to master a piano piece by Beethoven in two days, just because her sister can.
- Remember that your child watches how you respond to failures in your own life. It’s okay to share your disappointment and important to show them how you learn from the experience.
- Let your child know that you love him, win or lose. A big bear hug and a word of encouragement can ease the pain felt when he fails a test or falls down when learning how to ride his bike.
Parents can help their child mature and develop a strong character by helping them face and learn from their “failures.” Learning to fail at something with grace and grit can help your child develop into a more successful person.