Failure is a feeling that we all experience at a very early age, but our way of coping with it changes as we progress through life. Babies fail with no remorse, they try standing up, fall and get right back up again, but as we age, failure is a feeling we become much less comfortable with and we lose sight of the learning that comes from it.
Experts at The Genius of Play suggest that playtime is a great opportunity for parents to teach life lessons about decision-making and how to deal emotionally if the results are not what was originally expected. In addition to providing a multitude of benefits, play is a risk-free zone where mistakes and failure are all part of the fun.
I spoke with Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of Melissa & Doug, who is quite familiar with the feeling of failure and actually welcomes it. As an adult and entrepreneur, she’s learned firsthand that to be truly successful, we need to take risks, fail A LOT and learn from those experiences.
Following are a few of Melissa’s tips on how we can help our kids experience failure as a natural part of the path to success:
Step Back & Hover Less
Don’t let your instinct be to always rush in, solve problems and save your children from the sting of rejection as it may prevent them from becoming independent. Try to make a conscious effort to not swoop in and let kids get the skinned knee, resolve their own conflicts with friends and develop the grit and resilience they will need to bounce back when life knocks them down.
Share Your Setbacks
One way we can help our kids get more comfortable with failure is to share our own setbacks, how we handled them and what we learned from them. Kids are always watching and taking cues from their parents, so share a story from your work or social life that could be viewed as a failure on your part. Talk about how you felt, what you learned and how you would handle it when faced with a similar situation in the future. If you make a mistake in front of your child, acknowledge it with a script that doesn’t beat yourself up and suggests how to avoid the same mistake next time.
Turn Failures into an Exercise in Problem Solving
When your kids do inevitably experience a failure, empathize with them and use it as a teachable moment. Brainstorm ideas for how the situation could be handled differently next time. Be open to their ideas and encourage them to come up with a plethora of possibilities. (Ask, “What else could you do?”) This helps promote creative thinking. Children who are practiced in coming up with various responses to different situations are going to have more tools at their disposal in future situations.
Praise the Effort—Not the Intelligence
Psychologists often talk about the difference between having a fixed versus a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets view their abilities as innate and unchangeable, while those with growth mindsets feel their intelligence can improve over time with experience and believe their effort affects their success. In a study of 400 fifth-grade students who were asked to complete a puzzle, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., gave one group praise for intelligence (“You must be smart at this!”) and the other praise for effort (“You must have worked really hard!”). Then the groups were given difficult puzzles they could not complete. After that failure, easy puzzles were given to complete.
The group that was told they were smart did 20 percent worse than on their original task, while the “effort” group did 30 percent better. We can communicate to our kids that one way to deal with failure is to work harder!
Try New Things & Take Reasonable Risks
Some kids shy away from trying new things for fear they won’t be good at it. Reframe their thinking to focus on the experience and less on the performance/outcome. Make sure they know the expectations are to have fun, not necessarily be the best. Also, lead by example and let kids see you trying new activities, new challenges and even new foods.
What if we told our kids that we must fail in order to succeed? Challenge yourself and your children to do just that! Take risks, stick your neck out, fall flat on your face and get right back up, moving forward with new self-awareness and wisdom!