How great would it be to ‘fail-proof’ our children?!
Failure generally has all of these negative connotations. Often, in our own lives it has been something that we want to hide and avoid, something to feel ashamed of.
Sometimes out of love for our children, we can inadvertently communicate that fear of failure to them as we try to protect them from the pain we have known all too well. When the rubber hits the road though, we know that some of our biggest failures have been the making of us.
When we talk about ‘fail-proofing’ our children, we’re not suggesting that anyone should be capable of raising a child that never fails, we’re talking about raising children who see failure as a speed bump rather than a roadblock. We want to raise resilient children who understand failure to be an opportunity to grow rather than something to avoid and hide.
Here are some tips that come from the Failing Well workshop IZRA runs in Primary and Secondary schools.
1. Redefine failure
To raise ‘fail proof’ children, we have to change the way we talk about failure. Rather than failure being something that you give your children lots of sympathy for or show disappointment in, when we frame our response as encouragement for their effort and excitement in what they can learn, then it doesn’t have to be a sad occasion.
While we want to give weight to what our children care about and never want to be too dismissive of their challenges, we also want to be deliberate about reframing the experience of failure into opportunity for growth.
When our children experience failure, let’s ask questions like ‘what did you learn for next time?’ Questions like this celebrate what can be gained from the experience and subtly infer that there will be a next time so that it is assumed they will try again!
2. Catch their language
Something we repeat over and over in our school programs is that “failure is only something that happens, never something we are,” because there is significance in the way that our children talk about themselves.
As our children respond to an event of failure, we have to watch the language they use around it and help them separate the event from their identity. When we catch them referring to themselves as a failure or as stupid/dumb/terrible at sport etc. that’s your chance to catch their language and separate the event from their identity.
When they identify as their failure or their weakness, lovingly step in and correct it, saying;
“You can’t talk like that about my son/daughter!”
“You’re not stupid, you just had the chance to learn something for next time! I'm so proud of how hard you're trying."
3. Embrace feedback
We all know that being able to receive feedback is one of the best ways to grow and develop, however it is often associated with failure and rejection.
If we want our children to see feedback as helpful, we have to watch how we respond to feedback in our personal lives, because they are always watching. Do we get defensive when they critique our cooking or when our partner makes a suggestion on how we can do something differently?
How do we talk about people at work who give us feedback?
Do we talk about feedback as if it is helpful or as if that person had no right to say that to us?
As hard as it is, our children are always watching us and our responses are shaping their feelings around feedback.
Give those tips a go and for the record - you’re doing a great job too!