Helping Your Child Cope With Failure

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas A. Edisonfail

Peer pressure among parents for their child to ‘succeed’ is still alarmingly rife here in Singapore, particularly when it comes to academic skills. And today it occurs among parents of younger and younger children.

The more pressure we place on toddlers and preschoolers to succeed at the expense of happiness, the more likely this is to result in under achievement and loss of confidence. In some cases, it may even build into resentment towards parents and teachers and demotivate a child’s desire to learn. It’s as if ‘failure’ is a bad word. Yet is it? Celebrated figures throughout history have extolled the virtues of failure. From Thomas Edison, President Roosevelt and Alber Einstein to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and J.K. Rowling, all have voiced how experimentation, conundrums, challenges and a willingness to try and try again, led to success in their chosen careers, and in many cases a higher sense of self. As James Joyce wrote, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Disappointment in any shape or form, be it not making the school soccer team or not attaining expected results in an exam, can be painful and, in some cases, lead to a loss of confidence and self-esteem.  Teaching our children how to bounce back and cope with disappointment or failure is one of the best gifts we can give them. Encouraging them to get up and ‘take another step’ when they fall down, whether literally, or when faced with emotional and mental challenges, helps them to grow and discover about themselves, rather than to give up or become incapacitated. So what is the answer?

Let your child make mistakes.

Help your child to understand the significance and positive outcomes of the 3 Ps – Patience, Perseverance and Practice! And that regardless of talent and education, determination and self-control invariably leads to fulfillment, happiness and success.

Children learn by experiencing and experimenting.

A young child will never learn how to ride a bike if you don’t take off the stabilizers. Parents, in our desire to protect and nurture our children, must be wary of becoming the stumbling block to their attitude towards failure. But how can you avoid falling into this peer pressure trap and ultimately help your child cope with failure?

Accept your child’s strengths AND weaknesses.

We all think our children are perfect. Of course we do. But that doesn’t mean they have to be perfect at everything they do! Disappointment at not making the tennis team need not be a catastrophe! Show your child that the world is made up of people with many different skills and that’s what makes it diverse and interesting. Encourage them that there is a great deal of pleasure to be gained from cheering on their friends in the team or supporting their favourite professional player. And, that discovering they are not as good at something as they had hoped opens up opportunities to try something else!  Disappointment can easily be forgotten by the very suggestion of trying something new; an alternative that gives them something to look forward to and get excited about. And if you find a skill your child is likely to master, encourage that.  The more praise, success and sense of achievement they experience, the more their confidence and self-esteem will grow.

 Role model winning and losing.

Board games are a great way to do this. Learning how to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser are very important skills for children to learn but ones they often struggle with. It takes practice! It is very tempting for parents to allow their child to win. It makes us happy to see them happy, and it can avoid a wearisome tantrum! However, if you want to help your child cope with failure and you genuinely have better luck in the game and then allow yourself to win. And if you win again, just be sure to reiterate how much fun the game is regardless of whether you win or lose.

Build your child’s confidence.

Children can easily lose confidence in their abilities if they do not feel supported, emotionally safe, encouraged, or if they are fearful of possible consequences when they do not live up to expectations. Loss of confidence will lead to a reluctance to try again or have a go at something new. Any activity that helps your child build confidence in himself and his abilities will help him develop mental and emotional strength. One way that confidence grows is when your child feels a sense of achievement in his own ability. When your toddler struggles to build a tower with blocks, it means he is focusing on solving a problem. He may get frustrated but let him be. If you step in and complete the task for him you rob him of a natural learning opportunity. Allow him the challenge and pleasure of working things out independently. Your task is to encourage him and celebrate each achievement along the way.

Avoid negative language.

Think about the language and tone you use with your child, as well as non-verbal responses. Do you immediately chastise your child because they have not attained high marks in an exam, consequently lowering their self-esteem and perhaps even their motivation to try again? If your child has suffered a disappointment, a set back and seems badly affected by it, you will need to rebuild their confidence. No matter what the outcome was, or may be, praise every single effort. Reassure your child that no matter what the result you still love them and support them – and always will. The important thing is that they tried.

Encourage positivity and gratitude.

“Our life is the creation of our mind.”

Life is so much more rewarding when we have the ability to view things positively – no matter the outcome. After all, as the Buddha said, “Our life is the creation of our mind.” There is always something to learn and take away from difficult situations. Arming our children with resilience and the ability to bounce back from adversity will help them to take set backs in their stride. If your child does not do as well as he, or you, had hoped in a test, model a positive response yourself by saying, “Well, now we know what we need to focus on” – and encourage him where needed. Alongside this, comes gratitude. As studies have shown, regular affirmations or feelings of gratitude lead to greater happiness, resilience and a more positive approach to life. And you can start this with your child at the earliest age possible. In our centres, we do this from the age of 6 months but at home you can start as soon as your baby is born. As you train yourself to be a positive role model, you will impart these qualities to your child. If you have a positive attitude and demonstrate support and empathy when things do not go the way your child hoped, your ‘can do’ attitude will rub off on them. Even when life takes an unexpected turn, they can still feel determined and good about themselves. As the late Maya Angelou once said, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

Author: Fiona Walker

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Fiona Walker Fiona Walker is the Principal of Schools / CEO of Julia Gabriel Education. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education and is a qualified Montessori teacher with more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children.

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