Why Failure Could Actually Be Good for Our Children

By Elvira Tan
1 August, 2016

The notion of letting our children fail goes against every fibre of our being as parents. It’s instinctive for us to want to protect them, guide them and do stuff for them. It takes immense self-control to resist the urge to swoop in and help our kids out at their slightest cry for help.

It can be incredibly difficult to let our children make mistakes, let alone fail. At times, I struggle in discerning when I am to let go and let my children be. Some of us practically do our children’s homework by dictating answers to them, when they really should be doing it independently. We draw up elaborate time-tables and set alarms on our mobile devices that alert us to remind them to move on to their next task or activity. We do all this in love but these short-term gains in helping our children hand in that perfect piece of homework or getting things done efficiently and punctually might result in long-term losses in the form of overly dependent kids who lack resilience. Many children end up growing up with a sense of entitlement – expecting help for even the simplest of tasks.

Plenty of studies have shown that kids who receive too much help from parents are often anxious over the smallest of mistakes. They give up easily and don’t bother trying because they have not been given the chance to build up sufficient confidence in their own abilities and to learn the value of perseverance. Children must be given the chance to make a personal effort in being good at something, and the process might entail failure. Short-circuiting this process will impede the child’s ability to build a healthy sense of self-esteem and strength of character.

Never tell our children that if they are not naturally good at something then they shouldn’t even bother trying.

I think about the soundtrack from Zootopia for this.

I won’t give up, no I won’t give in
Till I reach the end
And then I’ll start again
No I won’t leave
I wanna try everything
I wanna try everything though I could fail.

Thanks to my 4-year old daughter who belts out this chorus from the movie’s hit song Try Everything at least once a day, it has become somewhat of a mantra for the whole family now. It’s so important that we don’t force our kids to do only activities we think they have a chance of doing well in, or we’ll deny them the joy of learning the value of hard work and experiencing the rewards of tenacity.

Never insist that results are all that matters.

Discuss lessons learnt each time our children meet with failure. Talk about what went wrong, trouble-shoot and explore possible solutions so that the same mistakes won’t be repeated. Impress upon them that it’s the process that is of greater importance.

Tell them that it’s okay to fail. It’s how we pick ourselves up after that truly matters.

We must let our children know that while it’s natural to be sad or disappointed when failure occurs, what’s more valuable is how they pull themselves together and do their best in coming back from failure stronger and wiser. A powerful way to teach them this is to role model for them healthy ways of managing challenges or failures that we personally face.

Share with them that no one is immune to failure.

Share life stories of people they admire who have encountered failure and overcame it. We can also recollect our childhood stories of failure and comebacks with them so they know that they are not alone and that failure is not a sign of weakness but a necessary part of life to help us be the best that we can be. We need to support them and show them that we accept them for who they are – imperfections and failures included.

Even in the small things, we can teach our children to fail. I recall a few years back when my then 8-year old son made phone calls during recess time to plead with me to deliver a book or piece of homework that he’d failed to bring to school and what a struggle it was for me to suppress my urge to bail him out! I reasoned with myself that he needed to learn to be more careful, accountable and resilient in accepting whatever punishment his teacher would mete out, but my heart grew heavy as I imagined the immediate repercussions of his oversight.

Looking back, I’m thankful I stood my ground because after turning down his requests a couple of times, and explaining to him my decision, he’s more careful now when he packs his school bag and he has learned to bear the full brunt of a teacher’s wrath stoically. Small steps but in this way, I hope he grows up to be accountable in all his ways and a resilient man who is unafraid of challenges and failures that life will throw at him.

Copyright © 2016. Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd.

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