Most of us are familiar with “famous failures” throughout history. Thomas Edison tried and failed more than 10,000 times before inventing the light bulb. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, missed more than 9,000 shots and lost nearly 300 games during his career. And what muggle could forget that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by a dozen publishers with the one who accepted insisting Rowling get a job since there was “no money in children’s books.” The list of “failures” goes on.
Yet when it comes to letting our kids fail, we tend to forget everything we’ve learned. From school policies against inviting only certain classmates for a birthday party to sports leagues that hand out participation trophies or avoid keeping score altogether, many parents today seem intent upon protecting their children, not only from failure, but also from difficulty, rejection, and mild disappointment.
From a parent’s perspective, this makes sense. After all, no well-intentioned mom or dad likes to watch their little one fall, fail, or get hurt. But cushioning children from failure also cushions them from developing strength, resiliency, determination, discipline, grit, optimism, and true self-esteem.
So how can you make it safe to fail? Here are a few tips:
1. Be a coach, not a cheerleader.
While there’s nothing wrong with a hearty dose of “You can do it!” too much praise can make children depend on affirmation as their benchmark for success. According to psychologist Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., author of Tough Times, Strong Children, “You get confidence from overcoming adversity, not from being told how great you are all the time.” When you praise, make it specific and direct it at effort or improvement, not talent. “You worked really well with your teammate,” means more than “You’re such a great player.”
2. Let them take appropriate risks.
Family therapist Dr. Michael Ungar challenges parents to give kids the Risk Taker’s Advantage: “I’d rather a child ride his bicycle on a busy street and learn how to respect traffic before he gets behind the wheel of a car. I’d rather a child do crazy stunts on the monkey bars at age four, and on his BMX bike ... when he’s 14 (even if there is a risk of a broken bone) if it means he won’t be doing stupid things with his body when he is 24 (like experimenting with excessive drugs or drinking). I’d rather an 8-year-old choose his own friends and suffer the consequences of being taken advantage of or emotionally hurt while his parents are still there to talk to him about it, rather than waiting until he is an ill-prepared 18-year-old who arrives at a college dorm unprepared for the complex relationships he’ll navigate as a new student.” Teach them that actions have consequences while the consequences are still small.
3. Reframe failures as successes.
Although it took more than 10,000 tries to get the light bulb right, Edison responded, “I didn’t fail. I just found out 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” When you’re trying something new, failure should be expected and encouraged. Some families even set aside time to share “epic fail” stories during dinner each night!\
4. Help them play the long game.
Today’s kids and young adults have a lot of passion but almost no patience, frequently growing discouraged or throwing in the towel when things take too long (though “too long” is often five minutes). Teach them delayed gratification. Remind them that good things take time and the best things take even longer.
In the end, remember that failure is not a prerequisite for success because success itself demands failure, but rather because success demands strength. And sometimes failing is the very thing that gives us enough ground to flex our emotional muscles and push ourselves back up.
WHEN TO STEP IN
You can’t shield your child from every little setback, but there are times when she’ll need help:
1. If failing would cause her tremendous humiliation. If she forgets her costume for the school play, don’t teach her a lesson in responsibility. Bring it to her.
2. If your child is in danger. Just because his friends are advanced swimmers doesn’t mean you should let your beginner in the deep end.
3. If she’s being bullied. One snide remark isn’t cause for alarm, but intervene if you see continuous teasing or excluding that visibly upsets your child.
Source: Aviva Patz, Parents Magazine
The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire recently opened Failsafe: A S.T.E.A.M. Fab Lab and Makerspace. Notable features include a 3D printer, a topographical sandbox, and a planetarium, plus activity kits such as MakeDo, LittleBits, and Squishy Circuits. Later in 2017, visitors can meet local makers and scientists, try projects, build a Pop-up Playground, or enjoy an experiment at Dr. Labcoat’s Exploratorium.
Visit ChildrensMuseumEC.com for the complete schedule.