Letting Your Kids Fail!!!
“Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”– Robert T. Kiyosaki
Seeing children fail and flounder is difficult for any parent. We all want our children to succeed, to be happy, to never see the face of failure and defeat. The problem arises when we go out of our way to ensure that.
I have experienced it myself. My son was being taught a new language at school. Most of his classmates knew the basics of the language and the subject was proving to be a big challenge for him. He has always been good at academics, getting straight As in most subjects, but this was the first time he was stumped. It was even more difficult because no one at home knew the language.
Ideally, all I should have done, was guided him on what he could do to pick up the language faster. But that would take time. Exams were coming and I needed a quick-fix solution, or else he would fail! So, I tried to make him learn the questions and answers, whether he understood them or not. I made him spend hours memorising the poems and chapters. Exam day came and he managed to get a B grade. But I wasn’t satisfied. I didn’t like the B among all the other As. So, I made him spend more hours on it. What was the result? He began hating the subject.
One evening, after a tension-filled hour of trying to read a chapter, he said, “Mom, what will happen if I get a B grade again, or worse, a C? What will you do?”
This question, said so innocently, opened my eyes. It made me realize multiple things:
One – He was afraid to get a bad grade. I didn’t want that. All I wanted was for him to try his best.
Two – He asked what “you” will do? Shouldn’t he be the one doing something if he fails?
Three – For a new language, why was he (and I) thinking that B grade is not good enough for him. Shouldn’t we celebrate the mere fact that he is able to learn a language instead of putting the pressure of excelling in it from day one?
That was the day, I changed my viewpoint. I told him that if he tried his best and learnt something, I wasn’t worried about the grade. I had a discussion with his teacher to understand how he could get a better grasp of the language, and we started doing those things, watching easy and short videos, getting some junior grade story books with translations for him etc.
In the next exam his grade was still B but it was without the torturous time I made him go through in the earlier term. He has started understanding part of the language. It is a long way for him to get mastery over it, or even reach the level of most of his classmates for whom it is their mother-tongue, but he is on the right path.
Why is it important to let your kids fail?
1. Failure is Not Your Failure as a Parent
As parents, if our child fails at anything, a subject at school, a competition or if he fails to make it to the school team, we often feel that his failure is a reflection of our failure as a parent. As a result, we try all means to ensure he succeeds. We finish off that project that is due tomorrow and is not yet done. We put in a favorable word to the coach. We meet the principal or teacher and talk her out of failing him in a subject.
The first thing to understand is that failing is not shameful. The second thing to remember is that your child’s failure is not a reflection of your poor parenting. It is okay for everyone to fail. It is okay for children to fall, get up and move ahead. Your role as a parent is to provide a safe environment where the child is comfortable making mistakes. You would have done a good job at parenting if your child can handle failures and not be disheartened by them.
My son’s grades in the new language, was not my failure as a parent. My failure would have been (which I came close to) if I would not help him see a path to learn it.
2. Failure Builds Tolerance for Discomfort
Life is full of discomforts, and it is okay to be in that realm for some time. Shielding your children from small discomforts of life is not going to benefit them in their adult life. We have to learn to lose a game, to get stuck in a traffic jam, to be called out for our mistakes. Children who have been protected from failures all their life find it difficult to handle one when they are faced with it, and face with it they will.
That is not to say that you create uncomfortable situations for the child, but if a situation arises which causes him discomfort, you let him handle it, ready to help him if it goes beyond what he can handle. Be there for support, but do not take the wheel yourself. It will only undermine his confidence.
3. Failure Prepares Us to Take Calculated Risks
Even the most successful people have had many failures in their life. It is not for nothing that failures have been called the stepping stones to success. Children who understand that it’s is okay to fail, are the ones who are willing to take calculated risks in life.
They are able to try and enjoy activities that they have never done before, able to experiment with ideas that others have not done before.
If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.– Ken Robinson
4. Failure Teaches Them to Take Responsibility For Their Actions
Every action has a consequence, and it is important for us, as parents, to ensure that our children understand this simple truth. If they do not work hard for that exam, they will not get good grades. If they do complete their homework on time, they might get called out in class. If they make excuses and do not live up to their promises, friends will stop trusting them. It is better to teach them these lessons when they are young and stakes are low, rather than protect them when they are young only for them to learn the lesson when the stakes are too high.
In the real world, real power and influence comes from taking accountability of your actions. Make him powerful.
5. Discuss with Them When They Are Calm
When my son was in grade 3, I told him he needs to complete his homework and projects without me reminding him. Initially I had the urge to tell him in the evening that he hadn’t finished his work for the next day, but I held myself in check. What happened next day was obvious. He was called out in class for incomplete work.
Did he like it? No. He hated it. He had always completed his work on time and never been called out in class before.
Did I like it? Definitely not. In fact, I felt a pang of guild as well, as if I were to blame for his incomplete work.
That evening I sat down with him. He was upset, sad, angry. I let him vent out his frustration and anger. When he had calmed down, I asked him what he could do differently? What did he learn from this?
I was amazed that he had already thought out a workflow where he could complete his work, ask me any doubts he had or take my help, if required, and then have time to play with his friends.
I still go back to micro-managing at times, but I have become better at it, giving him more freedom and independence. He has also learnt to be more responsible and take ownership of his own work. We are both learning and growing, failing at times, but getting up and moving forward.
6. Some Important Things to Note
- Allow kids to fail when there is time for reflection and feedback.
- Make sure you have the tools to support him in his journey towards becoming self-reliant.
- Do not push him too hard. You want him to succeed, but with his own hard work. Always support him when he needs it.
- Remind him of his strengths and help him cope with his failures. He should know that you will be there for him, no matter what.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”– Robert F. Kennedy