Handling Failure -- Teaching Kids How to Profit From It

There is nothing pleasant about failure, at least not at the time that it happens! Failure embarrasses us, feels bad, and often costs us money. Little wonder that people avoid failure like the plague.

As parents, we unwittingly pass on the message to our kids that it is bad to go wrong or fail. Teachers punish pupils directly or indirectly, for making mistakes. Their peers never let them live it down. Friends and loved ones try to discourage us from venturing into the unknown, all for the fear of making mistakes and failing. In the final analysis, we have become a people who think we are "better safe than sorry." We become "once bitten, twice shy."

However, failure can be a blessing in disguise. Through it we can learn what doesn't work. Then we can find what does. Failure is a much better teacher than success. Success makes our heads swell; failure makes us stop, look and listen. If we add "Learn" to this sequence, then failure becomes the first step to success. Stop-Look-Listen-Learn; that's the way to profit from failure.

The role of failure is expressed in these words of wisdom:

I've missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I've lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. -Michael Jordan

Failure is an absolute pre-requisite for success. You learn to succeed by failing. -Brian Tracy

Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. -Marilyn Vos Savant

I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed? and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail and keep on trying. -Tom Hopkins

If we give our kids the right perspective on failure, that it can be a spring board to success and not a hindrance, then we will prepare them to handle the real world out there, where nothing good comes easy. We will teach them to build realistic expectations - that success does not come easy, that winning comes from losing and learning, that when we lose, we must learn from our losses, and you cannot get success without first failing.

Practical examples

Here are some "failure scenarios" and ways that we can teach our kids to learn from failure:

Scenario 1: He spills his food all over the floor.

Lesson: We show him where he went wrong (wasn't looking where he was going, ran instead of walked etc) and how to do it better next time to avoid the spill. We express confidence that he can do it properly in future and praise him when he does. Now he knows how to avoid the mistake, and has the self-confidence to keep on trying till he can do it right.

Scenario 2: She gets her sums wrong.

Lesson: We show her where she went wrong, and the right way to do them, as often as it takes her to get them right without help. We give her more sums to re-enforce the learning. We express confidence that she can get them right next time, and praise her when she does. This way, we provide an atmosphere where it is safe to keep on trying, because if she "fails" she will be helped and not ridiculed. She learns that it is OK to try and fail, because you can keep on trying till you succeed. And you will succeed, if you don't give up.

Scenario 3: He loses his job

Lesson: We analyze the situation together, identifying where he went wrong and what he could have done to achieve better results. We express confidence that he will get it right next time, and praise him when he does. The support he receives boosts his self-confidence. Self-confidence strengthens the resolve to keep on till you win.

Scenario 4: She gets pregnant

Lesson: We talk about the choices we make and having to bear the consequences. We discuss how this will affect her life. We may express disappointment, but also show her that we love her and are there for her. We discuss plans for the baby, and preventing a re-occurrence of this situation. Supporting her through this trying time tells her that she is valued by you, even though she has failed you. Show her that you expect her to make wiser choices in future, and that you believe that she can. This way you boost her self-esteem and strengthen her resolve to be more responsible in future.

While you may not agree with some of these recommendations, please note that the focus is on making a learning experience of the situation. It is important to teach children not to be afraid to make mistakes (though we do not plan to make them!). Rather, when failure does happen it's a sign that our strategies aren't working and it's time to make a change.

Adults all around the world spend huge sums of money on personal development seminars, trying to get rid of the fear of failure. But you can give your children an edge; give them those success lessons right now!

Failing does not make us failures. It is failing to learn from failure that undoes us. We must teach our kids that failure is the first part of success. The sooner you learn all the things that don't work, the sooner you learn what does. And that means success, by learning from failure and winning!

Copyright 2005 Oma Edoja

This article may be reproduced but only if left as is, with the writer's resource box below, accompanying it.

Oma Edoja is a published writer, motivational speaker and infopreneur. She works with adults and teens, helping them set goals, overcome obstacles and move forward. She is also a mother and former schoolteacher. Please visit Oma's motivational blog and her parenting blog for more useful tips and resources.

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