With the new school year around the corner, students and parents are planning for success.
For some students, the start of school represents a second chance. Perhaps they need to bring up a low GPA. For others, the new school year represents a fear of failing to meet the high bar that they set last year, or a fear of losing their class ranking.
For many students, the new school year can bring concerns about making new friends, adjusting to a new teacher, or mastering the more advanced skills of the next grade level.
Parents and teachers often discuss how to succeed, but rarely do adults talk to kids about how to fail.
Failure is often thought of as something that should not happen. When failure does occur, it is surprising, upsetting and sometimes derailing. What if failure was discussed as a necessary part of life? The way we discuss failure with kids impacts how they cope with it.
Research shows that failure is an important part of building resilience. When kids fail and then try again, they are exercising confidence that they can succeed and building skills necessary for success.
Failure allows kids the opportunity to exercise the following skills:
- Positive self-talk: This skill involves recognizing the positive rather than being overly focused on the negative. Positive self-talk encourages kids to try again.
When kids fail, they may say to themselves “I am smart and capable. I can figure this out.” They may also think of examples in which they have shown intelligence and capability.
Conversely, saying, “I can’t do this,” “I’m not smart,” or “nothing works out for me” are all examples of negative self-talk. These statements keep kids stuck on feelings of failure and prevent them from trying again.
- Critical thinking: Once kids get past the initial sting of failure, it’s time for critical thinking. This is a chance to analyze what went wrong, why, and how to prevent that outcome. Developing and testing solutions builds the skill of critical thinking.
- Acceptance: Disappointment and unmet expectations are a part of life. Failure can help foster acceptance about not always being the best or not being skilled in a particular area. Failure can help kids learn to adjust their expectations and choose a different path when necessary.
Of course, it requires more than failure alone to build the skills of positive self-talk, critical thinking, and acceptance. Children must receive help cultivating these skills in the face of failure.
That’s why parents, teachers, and other role models are crucial to this process. Adults can help kids plan effectively for failure and cope effectively when failure occurs.
- How to plan for failure: Talk with your child about their goals, then discuss how they will cope with setbacks. Ask your child to imagine how they will think, feel and behave after a setback. Discuss ways to cope with these emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
You may also draw from past failures to develop a coping plan with your child. Remind them that failure is normal, and all people have experienced various types of failure at different points in life.
To help normalize failure, you may even share a story about how you coped with failure.
- How to cope with failure: Encourage your child to express their emotions. Don’t rush to acceptance right away. Let them express their frustration and negative feelings and allow them to cry if they need to.
Be aware of any unrealistic beliefs your child expresses, such as the belief that they are a general failure. Gently help them challenge overly negative self-talk and work toward developing more positivity.
Encourage positive activities that provide joy or a sense of mastery. This will help boost your child’s mood and confidence. Avoid using food or buying objects to provide comfort.
When your child is ready, provide any needed assistance with critical thinking and acceptance. Coping well with any failure is a process which may unfold over a period of days, weeks, or even months. While some failures may be worked through in one day, others may take longer.
Failure is unpleasant, yet it is a necessary part of life. When dealt with effectively, failure can strengthen resilience and provide an extraordinary opportunity for personal growth. By helping your child cope well with failure, you are helping pave the way for success.