Why Failure Is Not Always A Bad Thing For Kids

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We have all heard, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” What happens when you don’t succeed, though? Do you really try again? Or do you give up?

A new study by French researchers found that children who were told learning can be difficult, and that failing is a natural part of the learning process, actually performed better on tests than kids not given such reassurances.

As a Psychologist who works with success and the benefits of failure every day, I believe there is no better way to take the punch out of failure and keep a kid going on work than to train them to fail with grace.

In the study, they focused on a widespread cultural belief that equates academic success with a high level of competence and failure with intellectual inferiority.

We place so much emphasis on being first or being the best and the fastest. The truth is that most of the kids I have met throughout the years didn’t have academic problems and didn’t have intelligence problems, although they presented as though they did, and their school reports said as much. Their main problem was that they did not know how to keep going once they did something wrong, so they would give it up, become frustrated and then try to do anything and everything else but the work. At the end of the day, they would miss out on material because of that avoidance. Work avoidance, lost homework, hidden homework. All of these are common problems, but the underlying issue is not always about academics.

Most parents bring their kids in for help because they either refuse to work or seem to have a learning problem. After years of watching what fear of failure does to kids, I believe that practicing the process of how to fail with grace, taking the emotion out of it and getting right back to the work is the key to doing well. If frustration has the ability to take a child away from work and make him never want to go back, then it is my job to help him learn how to tolerate the frustration and move on. Teaching them to get back in the “game” after failing or making a mistake is an important psychological part of helping them succeed. Over time, doing that takes the emotional punch out of failing and helps kids learn that it is a natural part of learning. Without it, they don’t stay with the process of learning. It’s not something to run away from but something to be embraced and taken on. Once they learn how to just go back and try again automatically, they can begin to do that on everything they take on because it can become habit.

While working with the academics, one must also make sure to pay attention to the psychological patterns and expectations or you could see no movement at all.

“By being obsessed with success, students are afraid to fail, so they are reluctant to take difficult steps to master new material” says Frederique Autin, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Poitiers and the author of the study published in the American Psychological Association. “Instead, acknowledging that difficulty is an important part of growing intellectually and mastering new skills, could stop a vicious circle in which difficulty creates feelings of incompetence that in turn disrupts learning,” Autin added. An understanding that all things will not be an immediate success and that learning will take time and involve some mistakes, can help to keep a child’s expectations at a realistic place and keep them working after setbacks.

Failure can be motivating. Keep in mind that some of the most famous, wealthy, successful people we have known have all failed at one time in their lives, including: Henry Ford, R.H. Macy, F.W. Woolworth, Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Harrison Ford, Jerry Seinfeld and Albert Einstein. Walt Disney was actually told that “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas” by a newspaper editor. How’s that for a perspective changer? Just imagine if these people had stopped trying! The failure was a gift — shaping them into what they were really supposed to be doing.

Dr. Sherri Singer, Psy.D. is a Child and Family Psychologist helping people all over the USA with telephone and Skype webcam sessions, as well as live local sessions and free online webinars for parents with live chat afterwards. For more information about Dr. Sherri click here.
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