Primary Pastoral Care news
Marten Hilberts, Director of Primary Pastoral Care

I recently read an article by Amy McCready about the importance of allowing children to fail.

She states: “We’re well-intentioned as parents, wanting to keep our kids happy and feeling good about themselves and their accomplishments. But when kids don’t experience what it’s like to fail, they miss the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and know how to improve for the future. Kids that don’t know failure have trouble knowing what to do when problems do arise – they don’t have the confidence to take risks, they won’t courageously face their problems head-on or roll with the punches. As parents, we can be overly focused on the short-term success, not knowing that we’re affecting our kids’ potential to achieve success in the long run.”

As teachers we will often reinforce the concept of having a go and learning from mistakes with students. Without mistakes some of the world’s most marvellous inventions would not exist today. If your child forgets an item for school, is it best for them to problem solve how they can get through the situation without it or should you rescue them? Which will have them take a more proactive approach in the future?

The article continues: “When we allow our kids to face failure, they learn to find creative solutions to their problems. When we rescue them, kids may think that everyone always wins or that things always work out – and that’s not true. According to child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, kids that are constantly bailed out of problem situations will come to avoid situations where they might fail. As they grow older, that can increase anxiety and depression when they need to depend on themselves in tough situations.”

I recently watched the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith with my children. This film is based on a true story and focusses on the struggles faced by a father and how he ultimately overcame the many adversities. It shows how perseverance and grit ultimately allowed him to find success. This is the lesson I would like to give to our children. Hard work and perseverance are the keys to success. Coming up with hard goals that take some time to achieve are key. Wouldn’t it be great for all children to feel a sense of achievement as a result of achieving a hard goal?

The article concluded with five strategies:

  1. Take a leap – as a family. Let your kids know that risk-taking is an important value in your family, and follow through with your actions. Share with your children how you’ve made mistakes and kept on trying. When risk-taking is a family value, kids will want to take on more new challenges and experiences, whether it’s trying the scariest rollercoaster in the park or signing up for calculus. You’ll also be more comfortable with trying things outside your comfort zone, like picking up a hammer for Habitat for Humanity, learning a new language or starting a new exercise program.
  2. It’s okay for failure to be familiar. No matter what it is – tying our shoes, sinking free throws or diagramming a sentence – we’re bound to have a few hiccups along the way as we learn. Make sure your kids know to expect some failures as they try new things and let them know that it’s normal and expected. Emphasise the positives of learning from your mistakes and how we can learn from our miscues.
  3. Look at those who have risen above. Some of the most successful people in the world, from business tycoons to all-star athletes, had to overcome major obstacles and failures throughout their careers – think Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. Share these stories with your children, and pepper the conversation with personal stories of how you’ve improved following difficulties in your own life.
  4. Run a post-game analysis. While we naturally want to step in when our kids do fail, we need to avoid rescuing them. We can, however, support them and do a run-down of what happened and what to try next time. Try empathising, saying, “I can tell that was hard for you. So now that you’ve been through this, what would you try next time?” Don’t solve all the problems for them, but allow them to build up their critical thinking skills to help them come to a better result in the future.
  5. Support your student by letting go. Many times parents feel just as much pressure for their kids to bring home a straight-A report card as the students do. School is one of the hardest places to let our kids fail, but it’s one of the best – and most important – places for them to learn to take on responsibility for their own success. Learning to manage assignments and practices, dealing with teachers and classmates, and improving their work will all serve them well as they head to college and the workforce, and in everyday life. This doesn’t mean being removed from your kids’ homework or activities, but offering the right kind of support.”

Parenting is not a simple task and, although it is tough to watch your child experience difficulties, it is important for them find their own success and embrace failure as a stepping stone along the way. Building their resilience and problem solving abilities through experiencing failure and trying again, as the most inspirational stories have shown us, is truly the path to success.

I encourage you to read the article: Should I Let my Kids Fail by Amy McCready