Formerly Alpha Omega ¬

Learning from failure

If only we were all guaranteed success at everything in life…oh how our experience of the world would be different, but would it necessarily be better? As much as we try to protect children against failure and disappointment there are key lessons to be learned and opportunities to be enjoyed.

Here’s how a little failure can arm children for academic success…

A hard truth

No person will make it through life without experiencing the sting of failure, but those who understand how to deal with it and learn from it have the greatest chance of success. Or in the words of American educational reformer John Dewey: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes”.

But how and why can failing help?

Failure frees us of fear

Arguably a student’s fear of failure can be more debilitating than the experience itself. Left unchecked, it can lead to avoiding experiences or situations entirely for fear they will not be good enough, will embarrass themselves and will be ridiculed by their peers. Early exposure to the concept of attempting something without success allows children to find strategies to think around a problem.

Failure builds resilience

It’s all well and good to solve a problem instantly or to experience no problem at all. But life doesn’t work like that. A failed first attempt teaches children to pick themselves up and work around an issue, employing different means.

Failure teaches the value of effort

There are many examples of people to whom skills and achievements come naturally, but there are far more instances of people who overcame obstacles to achieve their goals in life. By allowing children to fail you arm them with the knowledge applied afford and perseverance go hand in hand with success.

A great example

When Sarah Blakely, America’s youngest female billionaire and creator of Spanx, was growing up, her father would often ask her the same question at dinner time, CNBC reports.

“What have you failed at this week?” Sarah recalled. “My dad growing up encouraged me and my brother to fail. The gift he was giving me is that failure is not trying versus the outcome. It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”

So how can parents teach their children about failure?

  • Be clear that not all things come easily to all people.
  • Reassure your child that sometimes they will find things harder than at others, but the important issue is what they do next. Point out their successes in other areas, and note that others may struggle in that situation. Critically ensure you are not saying it’s OK not to try in this area or to settle with bad results, but rather this area may require additional effort and that’s a normal part of learning.
  • Be seen to fail. Children who are comfortable with the concept of failure are more likely to bounce back and learn from it, and the best lesson a parent can give is by showing themselves outside their comfort zone. By illustrating failure and then the tactics you apply to overcome it, you arm children with the strategies to move forward and learn.
  • Reward effort as well as achievement. Research has shown children derive their perception of how smart they are from their parents’ attitude to failure, and not so much their rewarding of success. This means acknowledging a child’s attempt at a problem or new situation as much, if not more, than their mastery of it.
  • Focus on what they learn from it. Failure is not about that moment in time, but rather what’s next. In other words “That may not have worked…But what shall we try now?” Ask your children what they have learned from a failed experience, how they would approach it differently or what other course of action they would employ.
  • Help them in areas of weakness. Provide your child with the tools they need to overcome a failure. That may include extra assistance with specific homework or tasks while building their confidence in this area. Phrases like “Look now you’re getting it. Sometimes understanding just takes extra time, and it’s the same for everyone”. This assistance, reassurance and acquired confidence is often the key to overcoming a setback.

About Chalkwall

For over 25 years Chalkwall has been assisting students find their strengths and learn from their weaknesses in the academic realm. To learn more about our tutoring services, see here or contact us for further advice.