As parents, our instinct is to protect our children. It starts with physical danger and progresses — whether we realize it or not — to insulating them on a socio-emotional level. We don’t want them to be left out, we don’t want them to be scared, and often, we don’t want them to fail.
Is it okay to let your child fail?
In short, yes. Making mistakes and experiencing failure result in stronger, more resilient humans. We know this and yet, we focus almost exclusively on helping our children experience success. This is not to say that we always handle failures poorly when they occur. For the most part, we know what to say (starting with the infamous “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” quote which has been attributed to Wayne Gretsky, Michael Jordan, and probably your grandma after she got her first hole-in-one.)
How do you deal with a child’s failure?
Knowing what not to say is equally as important. Even with very young children, giving children a pat response such as, “It’s okay, you’ll do better next time” is not the best approach. Instead, ask questions ranging from inquiry about how the perceived failure makes the child feel to logical questions about what they would do differently next time.
Focusing on the process of learning a new skill, competing, or aiming for a result/accomplishment helps both adults and children. Parents need to help their children develop a growth mindset. Growth mindset means that just because a goal is not reached at the desired moment, that it doesn’t mean it never will be! The easiest way to incorporate a growth mindset into parenting is to remember to apply the word, yet to conversations with our children. Even very young children can understand growth mindset when it is framed in a way they can understand. For example, saying, “Remember when your baby sister was learning to walk? She kept taking one step and falling, but you cheered and clapped for her, and she kept trying over and over? Now she walks, doesn’t she? It’s just like that for you learning to ride your bike with no training wheels.”
How do you practice failure?
To throw another adage around, practice makes perfect. For older children, it’s important that they see their parents handle adversity in day to day life and hear about how you moved past failures earlier in your life. It’s hard for us to remember, but the tween to teen range is so egocentric they often think they are truly the only ones that have been moved to second string, uninvited to something, or relegated to ensemble when they really wanted a solo.
Process and failure don’t always occur on a macro-level. Think about all the things adults have been learning to do during the pandemic and all the time at home; baking bread, tackling home improvement projects, taking up art or sewing….and what do adults do when these are flops? Not hide in shame, no — we plaster our mistakes on social media as #fail with laughing emojis. While we’re looking for laughs from our peers, we need to involve our children in our “better luck next time” efforts as we demonstrate patience and resilience.
How can I help my child succeed?
As we all know, success is born of failure. All you really have to do is be an encourager and a good example. Just as the grown ups have used this strange time to try new things, this era of virtual learning presents a terrific opportunity for kids to try new things. Like the ones listed here, many of them are free! From introductory Spanish, to yoga, or jazz music for young musicians, this is a “nothing to lose, everything to gain” experience.
By “nothing to lose,” what we mean is that even if your child can’t master a downward dog and doesn’t start saying “please” in Spanish from their high chair, or comes in last in a virtual lego creation contest…..that’s okay! You’ve provided your child with the idea to try something new, and a safe space to do it at their own speed and comfort level.
While the benefit of learning from the comfort of home may make the students in your house more willing to put themselves out there, it can also be a challenge. Some students may be distracted by the home environment, bored by the lack of variety compared to what is offered at school, or simply just too comfy to concentrate. It’s important you help your children maintain a love for school!
So, whether it’s the virtual or in-person, core content or extra curricular, let go of your fear of failure, turn off your parental rotor-blades, and give the kids permission to experience the highs and lows of learning.