Why failure is not a setback but another trial in the process of “try, try, until you succeed”
Did you know that before Walt Disney became a phenomenal success with not just Mickey Mouse, but also Disneyland, he faced huge failures? He lost his own creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He also faced bankruptcy. He had to deal with one of the biggest strikes of that time. Even with Disneyland, the start was not flawless; they had to go through multiple setbacks before they finally managed to fix all the glitches and have it running smoothly.
Over the years, there have hardly been any inventors and innovators who did not have to go through quite a few trials before arriving at their final answer. This only goes to prove that falling is not the end but a beginning. It is the finest example of a growth mindset. It exemplifies that failing can be as much of a teachable moment as a success.
The unfortunate dichotomy in parental encouragement
Parents always seem to know that when their children take a fall in the playground, they need to be lifted, given a hug and kiss, and encouraged to get back to playing. But, somehow, this translated into the education space tends to leave something out. Children attempting to learn lessons within their school work are often praised for the right answers. This stems from the theory that they are providing positive reinforcement, but whether this is enough can be up for debate.
For instance, is ignoring the wrong answer or giving a few words asking the children to try again enough? What is the implicit message here? Do the children understand that being asked to try again means that it is just as okay to get it wrong as it is to get it right? Or, are we teaching them that getting an answer wrong will make them slightly less praiseworthy?
How do we tell them that willingness to try is the lesson? How do we teach our children the importance of the process and each of its steps? How do we give them a message that both success and failure give them a chance to grow?
Give importance to the process
Set them a task and watch them try to reach the end result. When they don’t reach the goal, go over the process with them, step by step. This is important because when discussing each step, the children are given the freedom to explore their steps and to wonder what else could have been done. They are given the space to try other ways of getting to the goal.
Inherent in this are two lessons – the first one is that it is okay to make mistakes and the second one is that starting over and trying is possible, even encouraged.
Inculcate the growth mindset
Children see the world as containing myriad possibilities. They are willing to try anything. It is the adults that try to rein them in by saying that this is not the way or that they may not be able to do this, why not try something else.
Implicit in this is that the children may fail at something they want to try and you would like to protect them from such failure. Telling children that they may not be able to do something can let in the ‘fixed mindset’. This mindset can put a stop to future explorations. Instead, inculcate the ‘growth mindset’. The ‘growth mindset’ not only retains the desire to try something new but also tells the children that the entire process, including the missteps, is one of growth and each one an opportunity for learning.
Remove fear of failure
Remove all negative connotations of the word, ‘failure’, by making failure important to the process of learning. Not by merely changing the word ‘failure’ into ‘challenge’ or by saying, it’s okay, try again. You can remove the fear of failure in your children by explaining that failure is just a word and can be limited to one approach. It can set the child thinking that there are other approaches, and they can try one or as many approaches as they want. Help them accept that failure is merely one of the detours when aiming for the result.
Emphasize the ‘other’ lessons
Make sure that your child is learning more than just the beginning and end of the task at hand. You can highlight the hidden lessons such as the willingness to try, ability NOT to give up, mindfulness practised at each step, independent learning, learning to deal with setbacks, appreciating the significance of a misstep or two, etc. You can even help your children understand that the end does not justify the means!
Children need to be shown that the joy is in the journey as much as in its destination.
- Academic importance may blind us to the damaging image of failure we paint for our children
- It is important that we change their outlook of failure and teach them that failure is not to be feared, but embraced
- We must guide children to grow. As parents we try our hardest to safeguard our kids from harm but giving them the path to make mistakes is more important than protecting them
- It is not all in the result. Emphasise the idea that the journey and your learnings along it matter more than the result