We have written before about the idea of fostering a growth mindset in children; a key element of this, and of building resilience in all areas, is not being afraid of failure. Resilience goes far beyond educational success and good exam grades; it’s something we all need in order to get by in life. We have all had experiences that have knocked us back, and resilience is what gets us back on our feet to carry on.
For many of us, failure is seen as a negative; something to be avoided at all costs. Many children feel the same way. But resilience is inextricably linked to failure; we can’t build resilience without being exposed to failure.
We’ve all heard - and perhaps used - the phrase, failure is not an option. The problem is that with this attitude, when children do fail - and everyone fails at something, eventually - they see it as the end of the world, something from which they can never recover. The idea that failure is not an option brings with it a fear of failing which can hold us back from trying new things, experimenting or taking risks.
Here are some ways to introduce children to the concept of failure as feedback rather than the end of the world:
"It’s not the winning; it’s the taking part!”
How many times did your parents tell you this when you were young? Children love to win, and we love to see them win - but not winning can teach them vital lessons and is something they should get used to as soon as possible. Not winning a game or a race can teach them to enjoy the process rather than just the destination, and can also teach them to look back and evaluate their performance: what could they have done differently, what will they do next time to have a better change of doing well?
Provide lots of chances to fail well
Board games and card games are a great way for children to learn how to lose gracefully. Remember here that they learn from our example so if you can’t get through a family game of Monopoly without it ending in a family feud, perhaps try a different game! Show them that losing a game is not the end of the world, and resist the temptation to let them win.
Point out others failing well (or badly)
Watching sports gives a great opportunity to see how others fail. Watching together, you can point out how a player reacts when a decision doesn’t go their way, or they lose a game or match. In tennis for example, players are often expected to shake hands, and to give a TV interview about their performance. Comments such as "he probably feels pretty rubbish but he’s already thinking about what he can do to improve” show children how failure can be a positive.
The best way to teach anything is by example. Often we want to hide our failures from our children, but it is really helpful for them to see that we are not perfect. If they have seen us fail, dust ourselves off and carry on, it won’t be such a big problem for them to do the same.