Conversation

Why teaching your children that it’s OK to fail might be the most important lesson of all

Parents naturally want their child to achieve their potential and succeed in life but teaching them that it’s OK to fail might be one of the most important lessons of all. It goes against parent’s instincts and letting children fail brings a certain amount of heartache for children and parents alike, but teaching our children that everyone makes mistakes and that we can learn from them, pick ourselves up and move forward is a valuable gift we can share.

Learning from making mistakes

From the moment they are born parents nurture, guide and support their child, helping them grow and learn. Allowing children to make mistakes might go against a parent’s instinct but can be an essential part of raising a confident, capable and happy child. It is only by doing things wrong that children can practise and learn to get better and not getting things right first time teaches resilience and persistence  – vital skills for children as they make their way through life. Only through trial and error can children become resilient adults.

There is so much pressure on kids today to be the best that it’s important for parents to let their children know that everyone makes mistakes and gets it wrong sometimes  -that’s totally OK. In fact, it’s brave to try something new, knowing that it might not work out.

As Henry Ford once said:

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

The temptation to step in and help our children before they fall

Whether it is a toddler insisting they can put their shoes on by themselves (when you are already running late) or a teenager falling out with their friend, a parent’s instinct can be to wade in and help resolve the problem. Parents have an inbuilt need to help and protect their children. But in both instances if parents can allow their child to find a way to carry out the task or resolve the situation themselves they are providing their child with valuable learning opportunities. They might get things wrong but only by doing so will they be able to reflect and learn to do it better the next time.

The stakes get higher the older your child gets

If your toddler insists he can put his shoes on by himself and fails then the worst that can happen is that he puts the wrong shoes on the wrong feet and you are all five minutes late. But as your child gets older the stakes get a lot higher if they make mistakes. If your child doesn’t study enough for a test then they might mess it up and their grades might have a big effect on future choices. And it is very hard to stand back as a parent and watch this happen. If you can teach your child that it is OK to get things wrong and guide them towards learning valuable lessons when they do, you are teaching your child a very valuable lesson.

Grown ups make mistakes too

Of course, as adults, we know that it is inevitable that we will make mistakes and fail at some points in our life. And it is important to share this message with your child. Talk to your child about the mistakes you made and how you learnt from them and always hold your hands up and apologise if you get things wrong.

So, how do parents teach children that it’s OK to fail?

The challenge for parents is to support children without setting them up for failure.

Show empathy

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathise. Let them know that you understand they are upset and frustrated by their mistake and that you know they really wanted to do better. A hug and a listening ear can go a long way.

Make yourself a role model

Talk to your child about the mistakes you made and what you learnt from them. Talk to them about how it made you feel and how you dealt with those feelings. Explain how getting it wrong helped you learn and avoid making the same mistake in the future.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Talk about what went wrong and use problem-solving skills together to come up with a plan about what to do next or what to do better the next time.

Einstein said:

“I think and think for months. For years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”

Remind your child that they can keep trying and they will find the best way to make the best of any situation that they struggled with. Be their cheerleader along the way.

Winning is not the most important thing

All anyone can do is do his or her best. Give as much praise to your child for effort and attitude as you would for a winning outcome.

Not everyone has the same talents

Remind your child that we all shine in our own ways. They might not excel at maths or sports, but they might discover that they are a whizz with the sewing machine or that they are wonderfully loyal and make a great friend. Help them try out and discover all sorts of different activities and skills and find their passion. Success does not look the same for everyone. It might not come in the form of amazing grades, wining medals and certificates. It might be more about trying our best and being the best person we can be.

Everyone has their own pace

When it comes to success everyone has their own pace. Be mindful to set expectations realistically. If your child is learning the piano, don’t expect them to be able to master a piece by Beethoven in weeks just because their sibling can. Let children know that practice makes perfect and that it’s OK to take a little time to find their way.

There’s always another way

It can be hard for your child to accept failure, especially as they get older and mess up exams or tests, which mean they don’t get into the course or university of their choice. Remind your child that there is always another way. When one door closes, another one opens. Perhaps they can re-sit the year or the test and do their utmost to get better grades next time, perhaps they can start a college course and work towards the degree they really wanted to do. However crushing it is to fail, show your child that there is always another way to move forward.

Keep a sense of humour

There are times when we ALL mess up, but if you can learn to laugh about silly mistakes it can help your child know that this is OK. When you make mistakes in front of your kids don’t stress and laugh it off. It happens. It’s OK.