It is every parent’s natural inclination to want their child to succeed – in school, at life and in relationships.
Wanting or expecting our child to fail seems counter-intuitive, and even the hallmark of poor parenting – but nothing could be further from the truth. Despite our best efforts, the reality is that our children will face obstacles and challenges, and occasionally fall flat on their faces. We ourselves have stared failure in the face.
Experience and history show that the mark of true success does not lie in never failing, but how we pick up ourselves up and move on after the fall. This holds true for our children too.
How can we raise resilient children who will “fail well” and spring back from tough times?
Give our children the space and opportunity to explore, try and fail.
In urban Singapore, our children have highly structured and predictable lives. While this is not a bad thing in itself, children tend to be sheltered and face few challenges. As parents, we need to empower our children to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. If you have an anxious child, they might need a little more persuasion to do this!
At times, a child might ask to try something new, such as a novel hobby or even to pursue a subject in school that we think isn’t their greatest strength. When we provide our child with the autonomy to pursue these interests, we also instil in them a sense of confidence that we believe in and value them.
Additionally, research shows that people adapt to life’s challenging situations over time (Hans Selye, 1936). Each time a child meets with a challenging situation, and successfully overcomes it, they build their ‘resilience muscle’, and gradually build up their ability to cope with adversity.
Be a safe haven for our children.
Supportive parents are invaluable to a child’s formative years. Studies have shown resilient children have this in common — a stable, positive relationship with an adult caregiver, such as a parent. Even as we give our children room to try new things, we must be mindful of our response if or when they fail; our words and actions at this juncture will shape how they view themselves.
By making it a point to affirm their efforts, we assure our children that we can be their confidante, and listen to their fears, worries and disappointments without judgement. Whether they have failed or express anxiety about failure, we must encourage them to pick themselves up and demonstrate how we will continue to journey with them.
Resilient children have stable, positive relationships with adult caregivers, like a parent.
Let them process and learn from the experience.
After a setback, a child will naturally need time to process what has happened. We should fight the urge to immediately jump in and “fix” the problem, or direct our children about what they need to do next.
This processing period is part of their learning and growth; be attentive and ready to talk to your child, but give them time to start the discussion with you. As any parent with older kids will tell you, the time will come when your children will initiate deeper conversations with you!
Ask simple and open-ended questions, such as “what do you think happened?”, “how do you feel about it?” and “What would you like to do differently next time?” This also instils a healthy habit of reviewing their own behaviour and actions, which will be immensely helpful to them in adulthood.
Expose your child to others who have failed well.
While we often hear of people’s successes, sometimes very little is said about their failures, if it is mentioned at all. Numerous successful and iconic figures in history have dealt with failure. Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Oprah Winfrey are just a few icons who faced failure and rejection yet overcame them to achieve huge success. Seek out and share such examples with your children. This will reassure them that failure is not something we should be ashamed of nor something to dread.
We should fight the urge to immediately jump in and ‘fix’ the problem for our children after they have failed.
Examine our own attitude to failure.
As I reflect on my own parenting journey, I realise that children always “do as we do” and “not as we say”. When I see my children shrink away from an unfamiliar challenge or give up on a difficult task, I am reminded that they have also observed me picking the “safe” option, and are simply following my pattern of behaviour.
I have learnt to share openly about my own failures, or difficulties and explain my decision-making process, as well as what I have learnt from the situation.
Failure is not something we should be ashamed of nor something to dread.
Failure is part of life’s learning process, and when our children learn to “fail well”, they become strong and confident individuals, adept at tackling new challenges. As parents, let’s take steps to start them on the path to greater resilience today.
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