Monday, November 26, 2012

Teaching Failure

Learning how to fail could be one of the most important lessons you ever teach your child. It teaches perseverance, dedication, hard work, and follow through. Because let's be real, no on likes a sore loser who quits all the time, and we want our children to be liked. Encourage them to see a task to completion even if it isn't "perfect". Let them learn the reality that they are not naturally awesome at everything - being awesome takes work.

Highlight progress stemming from repetition and practice. (You're catching the ball more often than you did the last time we played catch. You're getting better because you're practicing!) Focus on excellence that is the result of hard word and dedication. (This is a really good picture. I can tell you put a lot of time and work into it.) Encourage your child to always do their best regardless of the task. It really is true that "something worth doing is worth doing right". This will foster a sense of self-pride in accomplishment that is more meaningful than abundant empty praise that doesn't paint an accurate picture of their skill level or the work it takes to improve. It will also help your child use these same accomplishments to build self-esteem that doesn't rely heavily on external cues and rewards. This will be increasingly beneficial as your child grows towards adulthood because failures will not be seen as a crushing ego blow, but instead as challenges to overcome.

I am NOT saying do not praise your children, but I am saying you should be aware of the wording and frequency of that praise. Also pay attention to the quality of your child's work, and bear in mind the age appropriateness of their finished product. You might congratulate a 4 year old that writes their name with a backward letter in it, but to tell a first grader who did the same that they did good job would not be honest or doing the child any favors (a more appropriate response would be to say "I don't think you were trying your best on this. I have seen you write your name better than that.) In my experience, if you call your child out on not giving their best effort, they will make corrections without actually being told to.

This is why I do not jump in to rescue my girls (ages 1 and 6) from difficult tasks. I try to let them work through it. If they are getting frustrated, I will offer hints or suggestions, but I do not take over. Even if that means it takes longer for the task to get done than if I would have just done if myself. Bailing your kids out when things get tough sets a bad precedent for when they are older and you are not around to help them out of a tough situation.

There will, however, be times when a task really is just too difficult for the child. In those instances, I suggest talking them through and giving them broken down, guided steps, or replacing the task with a more age appropriate one (maybe they can stir instead of breaking eggs). This is the difference between teaching your child to fail and setting them up for failure.

For more on how to use failure to your benefit, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure is a great book, emphasizing how failure teaches innovation.

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