Learning & Development

Learning from failure: teaching kids to make mistakes and bounce back stronger

Written by Archana Singh Nughaal
Published: August 24, 2022
Currently working in Pinegrove School in Kasauli Hills, Archana Nughaal is an educationist with over 14 years of experience. Her certifications include Army Commander's Commendation, Management & Personality Development DSSC, Wellington and MBA from Utkal University.

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‘King Bruce and the spider’ – You must have read this story as a kid and, undoubtedly, passed it on to your kids. So what did the story teach you? To be courageous, wise and never give up. It also emphasised that there is no greater improvement than learning and adapting from your mistakes. Simply put, it is okay to fail. So, why are most parents today willing to go to great lengths to protect their kids from the pain of dashed expectations? 

Parents try to shield their children from failure at all costs because they know how upsetting it can be and always want the best for their children. We live in a society where everyone celebrates achievement. So, it’s normal for children to feel ashamed or think success is too far away when they fail. The best thing to do would be to turn things around and show your child that it is a learning moment. Prepare them for the real world.

Why Is Failure So Important In A Child’s Life?

Disappointments are beneficial for kids because they help them to-

  • Deal with setbacks
  • Rethink their mistakes
  • Develop coping skills
  • Build emotional resilience
  • Encourage creative thinking
  • Enhance the ability to collaborate

Parents often perceive failure as a source of pain for their kids, instead of an opportunity for them to get up and say with confidence, ‘I can deal with this. I’m built tough.’ So should you resist the urge to rebuild your kid’s block tower when it falls apart or not? Honestly, there are no right answers. However, there are daily steps you can take to teach them how to handle the situation when things don’t exactly work in their favour.

Preparing Kids To Handle Setbacks And Failures

1. Be mindful while supporting them
Even parents who honestly view failure as an opportunity may struggle while figuring out what to say to their children when they fail. Try to show your child that you are listening to their worries, concerns, and anything else they need to express before speaking. Letting them vent is a big part of making them feel better.

Next, try to be empathetic towards your child’s situation. Advice and other suggestions can wait, but first, let them know you understand them. The apt thing to do would be to praise them for their efforts. Use kind words like “Getting out there and giving your best makes us so proud of you.”

If you feel compelled to respond to your child’s disappointment, do so by emphasising what they learnt from the situation rather than their skills. Focussing on what children learn implies that they still have room to grow and that their failure isn’t an unalterable fact.

Try Being Your Child’s Guide Rather Than His Saviour

You can’t always be there to comfort him when he feels left out or performs poorly on a task, so teach your child how to deal with setbacks. Whenever he comes home complaining about how the other kids wouldn’t let him play with him, try asking, “How did you feel when they wouldn’t let you join them?” Then ask him what steps he would take to change the situation next time. Get him to think on his own. The more solutions he comes up with, the better. Do not force your ideas on him, or you’ll shut down his creative problem-solving. Encourage him by saying, “Yes, that’s one way to look at things. What else?” 

Encourage Them To Try New Things

Children naturally gravitate toward the interests they enjoy and are good at. However, if your child refuses to try a new activity out of fear, they will lose the desire to expand their horizons. Make it a point to expose your child to new experiences while emphasising that they shouldn’t feel pressured to set any world records (at least not right away). Your role is to promote improvement and effort.

Look At The Positives

Talking and sharing about an experience will help them learn to see the good in every circumstance. Perhaps, they might have lost the game but scored a goal, or maybe they didn’t get an A but improved their score from the past test. Keep encouraging them in all the scenarios.

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Lead By Example

You must learn to accept your setbacks gracefully because your child is constantly watching you. Use expressions like “I’ll try harder next time” to assist your child deal with their shortcomings. And when you make a mistake, own it. This demonstrates that grownups make errors and are willing to own up to them. 

Teach Them To Manage Their Expectations

Children mess up on tests, strike out, and forget lines. Rain causes cancellation of picnics. Popular dolls are sold out at stores. Even if you can’t stop these things from happening, you can lessen your child’s anxiety by limiting her expectations. Treat exciting plans as simply possibilities rather than guaranteeing them. If things don’t work out, you’ll have softened the shock and reinforced the idea that modest setbacks are a part of life.

Asking For Advice Is A Good Thing

Remember that failing allows you to attempt something new or try again. You shouldn’t give up because it didn’t work out the first time. Remind your child that they can seek guidance from you, their teacher, coach, or someone else with more expertise and then adapt that to their learning to improve.

Know When To Step In

You can’t protect your child from every little setback, but there will be times when your child will need your assistance.

If he failed, it would be a great embarrassment for him. Don’t try and teach your child a lesson of responsibility when they forget their outfit for the school play. Instead, think on your feet and quickly deliver it to him.

If your child is at a greater risk. Just because their friends are advanced swimmers doesn’t mean you should let them go into the deep end without prior training.

If bullying is involved. Although a single crude comment on the playground shouldn’t raise any red flags, you should step in if you notice ongoing bullying or exclusion that clearly affects your child.

Failure can make you a better, stronger person if you can learn from your mistakes and apply what you’ve learned. Don’t forget the most crucial part, and also remind your child that it is far better to fail to try than to fail to try.

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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