Why failure is good for your kids
Why failure is good for your kids
By Gabriella Munoz
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Just when you think you have finally cracked the code to your children’s behaviour and personality, something new comes up – and you need to revise what you’ve done so far, because most of the time everything that you’ve learnt has to be scratched.
Children will go through various stages of emotional and physical development. The first year might be all about sleep and food, followed by years of tantrums, fears and big emotions. By the time they are ready to go to school, they (and us) need to learn to deal with one more thing: failure.
Most children will fail at something sooner rather than later – it can be their first maths test or a footy match. The way we approach their failure will have a huge impact throughout their lives.
You will have a good idea of how you will react to your kids’ failures if you think about the first time they were toddling around and fell. Did you try to help them? Did you mask the fact that their feet couldn’t coordinate just yet? Did you tell them to stand up and try again and again?
Failure, or lack of success, is something that we usually fear. In some cases friends and family promote the notion that failure is bad, but the truth is that the fear of not becoming popular, not getting a job, not making friends or not passing an exam is uncalled for. Failure is good for us, it makes us resilient.
In her book The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey explains that in teaching our kids to fear failure we are, in fact, sabotaging their chance of success. For Lahey the generation of young adults who have failed to launch has little to do with increased housing costs. “Doing what feels good as a parent has fostered a generation of narcissistic, self-indulgent children unwilling to take risks or cope with consequences”, she wrote in an article for The Guardian. And whereas it’s true that a whole generation is having trouble buying a house, it’s also true that for some it’s just easy to stay at home and have mum and dad worry about the day-to- day business of running a house.
To make sure our children learn determination, commitments, patience, humility and problems olving, let’s make sure we let them fail and learn from the experience. This requires patience and resilience from us as parents as well.
Group assignments tend to be common at school, so let’s start there. If the team fails don’t tell your child that it wasn’t their fault, don’t highlight the mistakes their peers made. Instead ask them what they did wrong and help them learn from the experience.
Your daughter didn’t make the swimming team? Don’t blame the coach. Don’t tell her that she’s better at dancing and that she shouldn’t worry about it. Let her train more. Allow her to assess the situation and try again. One of the most important things we can do as parents is teach our children that struggles and setbacks are a normal and formative part of life.
Once our children realise that we are afraid of failure and that a setback gets us all anxious and moody, they will copy our reaction and will stop trying. Lahey explains that her son was 9 years old when he finally learnt to tie his shoelaces. The boy feared not getting it right because he saw how his mum stressed about it. It was until she sat with him and helped him face his fear that he finally mastered the art. “In less than an hour, the embarrassment he’d felt about being the only child in his year who couldn’t tie his shoes was gone. He’d succeeded, and I’ve hardly seen him so proud of himself. All it took was a little time, a little faith in each other and the patience to work through the tangle of knots and loops.”
Perhaps the best place to start is dinner time (or whenever you sit down to spend quality time with your children) and ask them about their failures and what they can do to improve. You can also talk about yours: after all, parents aren’t perfect and they will learn from us. If they realise that their parents make mistakes too and that they own them and try again, they might start doing the same. Most importantly, we will be killing two birds with one stone as we would be teaching them compassion, a much needed currency in our world.