It may be true that “failure is proof that you are trying” and “every failure teaches you something,” but for kids, failure can be tough. (And let’s be honest, failure can be hard to handle no matter your age.) That’s why it’s important for us to teach our children how to handle failure and how to learn from failure. We shouldn’t expect them just to know how to do that.
We need to go beyond teaching them about failure. We need to set them up for success.
Kids need opportunities to try new things and to experiment. And we all know that anytime you try something new, there’s a chance of failure. So what can do to make success a more likely outcome while teaching kids how to handle failure? We give them the tools they need to succeed.
Start by helping them change the way they view “failure.” One idea from Spanx founder Sara Blakely is to help children “celebrate their efforts.” We live in a results-driven society. But for kids the focus needs to be more on the process. What worked? What didn’t work? What can be changed. Another comes from Ben Johnson’s Edutopia article “Redefining Failure.” Johnson encourages “routine trial and error,” what he calls inquiry-based learning. It means making the errors just as important as the trials.
Then encourage them to get involved in different activities. Look for opportunities where kids can explore and participate in things outside their comfort zone. Something new can be intimidating (often because of the fear of failure). But it can also be the way they discover those things that fit with their interests and abilities. This is a great way to put trial and error into practice! You don’t want your child to hop from activity to activity without completing anything. But you do want to encourage your child to explore and discover.
We don’t want to protect our kids from ever failing. Going out into the real world would be a very rude awakening for someone who’s never had to deal with disappointment. And as Theodore Roosevelt said, “The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.” But we do want to help them see that success is only found when we try – and the errors are just as important as the experiments!