We spend a lot of time teaching children how to do new things and we help them to become the best version of themselves. We praise effort and success and we build children up the best that we can, which is crucial for their development. We build their self-esteem and worth and encourage them to try hard and to keep going when things get tough. However, when do we actually teach them how to fail?
Failure is an inevitable part of life. When we first learn to walk, we fall multiple times before that first step is taken. Every letter that we now write so freely was once written as a wobbly, oversized shape barely resembling anything in the alphabet. Ultimately, every single thing that we can now do well, was once new to us and was imperfect before we perfected it. Failure is a part of success and those who can fail fast, without letting it be a defining moment in their life, are the ones who will achieve the most. The most successful people in the world will have failed more times than they have succeeded. However, it’s their resilience and ability to see failure as a lesson, rather than something to be ashamed of, that seems to set them apart. In order to step into our brilliance, we need to go outside of our comfort zone and every time we step outside of our comfort zone, we risk failure because we are trying something new. A person who doesn’t fear failure will be more likely to step into unfamiliar territory and will therefore push themselves to new levels.
In order for children to be successful in life, they need to understand that failure is necessary and see it as an opportunity for growth. There are a few things that we can do to help them to do this:
Allow children to fail
Our instinct is to protect children and we don’t like to see them upset or struggling. Quite often, we do everything in our power to prevent this from happening and that can lead to our actions cushioning any adversity they may face. As natural as this is and as much as our heart is in the right place, we need to ask ourselves if this is going to support them to succeed in the future. If a child never loses or experiences failure, how will they build their resilience and learn how to cope with it in the future? We need to allow children to challenge themselves and to face the trials and tribulations that come with new territory. We don’t need to go out of our way to create moments for failure – that would be slightly harsh! However, when children would naturally fail, like when playing games, or practising something new, we need to allow them to go through the motions and feel the emotions that come with not succeeding so that they can develop coping strategies.
Make failure positive
Failure is often viewed in such a negative light. However, in my opinion, failure is a great thing. Failure means we are trying something new and not staying in our comfort zone. Failure means that we have an opportunity to learn and every single failure takes us one step closer to success. If our words and actions teach children this, they will start to see the blessings that lie within each failure they experience. When talking about the day I always ask my children 4 things:
1. What they enjoyed
2. What they didn’t like
3. What they did well
4. What they didn’t do well (and the lesson this brings)
I model each answer about my day first and by doing this, I pave the way for my children to do the same. When we get to number 4, I say honestly what I haven’t done well, but I also talk through the lesson that I have learned by this happening and what I can do differently next time. I also make a point of saying how great it is that I didn’t do well because it means I am giving myself the chance to learn something new and that next time I will be a bit better at it. If a child is upset about what they haven’t done well, always acknowledge their feelings and tell them that it is understandable they feel that way. This makes them feel validated and heard, which is crucial. However, use this as an opportunity to guide them into seeing the lesson and gently help them to see that although they feel bad, there is lots of good to come from it. By doing this consistently, children will learn that it’s okay to fail and will slowly and positively reprogramme their understanding of what that means.
This then brings me to the importance of imperfection. As adults, we feel like we should have all of the answers and be a pillar of strength for our children. It’s true that children need to see stability and safety within us because this makes them feel secure. However, there is a difference between this and perfection. Of course, children should always be protected from our grown-up problems and we should shield them from our worries. However, it is okay for them to see vulnerability in the small things and for us to admit when we haven’t got something right. Children learn about the world through what they see. If they constantly see perfection and someone who never makes mistakes, that is the standard that they will judge themselves against. Nobody is perfect and showing children this allows them to embrace their imperfections and failures too. If you make a mistake, show children and tell them how you feel and how you see it, a great lesson. By modelling imperfection and the lessons in failure, it gives children permission to do the same.
Failure is never nice for anyone, but the way we deal with it will determine the level of success we allow ourselves to have. Those who embrace it and use it as a driver for development and growth will achieve much more in life than those who let it define them. Failure is inevitable, but not allowing ourselves to succeed is often a choice that we don’t realise we have. If we can teach every child the beauty in failure and give them the confidence to embrace their imperfections, they will not only have more self-esteem and self-worth, but will also have the resilience and tenacity to try new things and therefore reach their truest and most extraordinary potential.
About the author:
Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.
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