By Jackie Charley, Author of ‘Unlock the Cage: Empowering parents to step out of fear into freedom’
Why are we all so afraid of the ‘F’ word? It seems to be the one thing we run from, or cover up at any cost.
What is the big deal with failure?
It’s always portrayed as such a negative thing. Even schools, which are supposed to be the seat of learning, make harsh distinctions between a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Yet why categorise something as ‘failed’ when it represents such a brilliant opportunity to learn? That’s not failure, that’s an open door.
“Endlessly protecting young people from any experience of failure is unhelpful. It means that failure becomes shameful, incomprehensible and much harder to bear when it happens.” Nick Luxmore, Psychotherapist and Counsellor at King Alfred’s Academy, in the UK.
The thing is nobody likes to fail, even less to be seen to have failed. But my feeling is that we need to stop running from failure. We need to stop pretending that our kids will never fail, and we need to stop trying to protect them from doing so. Failure is a fact of life. Let’s stop treating it like the big dark bogey-man, the elephant in the room, the one thing we hope will never happen.
Let’s just take away failure’s power to scare us by holding its hand. It will be our constant companion for as long as we have breath in our bodies, so let’s take the sting out of its tail and sit down, as if with a friend, and learn what it can teach us.
How do we do that with our kids?
Well, there are quite a few things that can be done to turn failure into your best weapon, but here are two great ideas for starters:
Let your kids know that you really understand how disappointed or frustrated they feel when things don’t go as they’d planned. Often we so desperately want to fix things for them, to be the time-travelling hero who puts it all right again. But even if that were possible it would be giving them a very unreal picture of the world. What they need to hear is that we understand. Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that failure can really hurt. It stings, it cuts and it thumps us in the chest. So let your kids acknowledge their emotions and cry, shout and stamp about. That’s OK. In fact, if we truly acknowledge strong emotions they normally only last for about 90 seconds, so let them do just that and then they can move on, sit down with this ‘new friend’, and learn.
- Teach them that there is no failure only feedback
Read, repeat and inwardly digest this phrase. In fact, why not make it a family mantra since all our failures and mistakes are simply telling us how not to do something; we just need to work out what to do differently next time round. Let’s join the ranks of Thomas Edison who ‘failed’ 999 times before he found the right filament to make his light bulb work. Or Michael Jordan who missed 9000 shots and lost 300 games during his career but went on to be the greatest basketball player of all time. If these guys had taken failure too seriously they would have just given up. But they didn’t. They just learned from what didn’t work until eventually they found out what did.
Failure is a means, not an end
“There’s a common misconception that children develop resistance by encountering failure. That’s a myth. Children develop resilience by dealing successfully with failure.” Dr Laura Markham
Their persistence, their willingness to try again and again produces a tough internal characteristic psychologists call ‘grit’. It’s earthy, it’s real and it’s nurtured by sweat and tears. As Dr Christine Carter of Raising Happiness says: “We humans develop grit by encountering difficulty and learning to cope with it.”
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if our homes became complete ‘no blame’ zones? Places where our kids made mistakes but weren’t blown out of the water for them. Places where they dared to try new things, to discover, to mess up, and for it all to be part of the fun of learning. In this kind of home kids would learn how to look at failure without fear. They’d learn that experimenting and working out what went wrong when the honeycomb toffee hit the ceiling instead of just bubbling slightly in the pan, was just par for the course. And they’d try again. They’d become resilient and learn how to deal with disappointment. They’d learn how to adapt and change. These skills will serve them well both in their personal lives and in their future employment. What boss wouldn’t value someone who’s prepared to pick themselves up when things go wrong, who has a fearless desire to learn? Hey, what robust and independent young people we can help them become.
So, I dare you to add ‘the love of failure’ to your family’s list of values.
You up for it?
Let me know.
Image used courtesy of stockimages/ freedigitalphotos.net/