As basketball great Michael Jordan said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Business greats like Bill Gates and Dale Carnegie agree: Failures are inevitable and learning from your failures is the surest path to success. But how do you explain this to a child? We discuss this with Fiona Walker, CEO and principal of Julia Gabriel Centre, Singapore.
1. How do you show/model failure and bouncing back to a child?
If you want children to pick themselves up from failure you must show them it is not something to be ashamed of. Not only that, they must not fear the consequences should they not succeed at something. So most importantly, in the event your child does not “perform” as you hope or expect, avoid reactions that involve reprimand and punishment. Remember, this is not about you, but your child’s healthy development and wellbeing. Focus on what went right in an exam, for instance, letting them know that you are proud of them. Then you can discuss together the areas where they may need extra support. Talk about famous people who achieved something great or invented something useful (say, Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb and said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”).
2. When would you start this?
As a small baby, your child will pick up on your tone of voice and facial expressions even if they do not understand your words. A warm, calm and encouraging voice with a smiling face will go a long way to helping your child understand that they are loved and supported as they attempt to try something for themselves — whether it’s a baby struggling to lift up his head or a toddler attempting to stand. She may not succeed the first time, or even the second or the third, but don’t be too quick to rush in and help her — she will eventually!
3. Would you encourage them to plan for failure even as they are working towards a success?
I wouldn’t actually encourage a child to plan for failure; rather allow them to feel safe to fail. Show them that the process of acquiring a skill or carrying out an action can be just as rewarding and enjoyable, if not more so, than the result. We all know as adults that if we really enjoy doing something or have a passion for something, it really doesn’t matter what level of success we attain. If we encourage the same in our children, “failure” need not be an issue.
4. What are good coping strategies for tough times?
Some children have a more resilient nature than others though there are many adversities all children have to face as they grow up. Allow for “quiet time” after a tantrum or frustration. This helps them calm down, and perhaps even reflect on their behaviour or forget and move on. Developing close ties to family and other loved ones also helps create a sense of security in young children that leads to strong values and the ability to cope in tough times. Establish an environment of physical and emotional security in your home by accepting the expression of all emotions. When you focus on the best in your child and express your appreciation of these qualities, your child will recognise them also and begin to develop confidence in himself. Any activity that helps your child build confidence in themselves and their abilities will help them develop mental and emotional strength.