Exam results dominated August’s news in the UK – with 16 and 18 year olds finding out how they did, the stories are all about success, grades and getting it right (or wrong).
GSCEs and A levels may seem a very long way off but how we, as parents, handle the pressure to succeed and our attitude towards it affects our children from a very early age.
The pressure to succeed can be damaging, both to self-esteem and, ironically, to future success. And it seems that our attitudes as parents are contagious – if we are afraid of failure, it’s more likely that our kids will be too.
Stamford University researchers surveyed 73 child/parent pairs on their attitudes towards failure. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the parents who feared failure and saw it as an indication of lack of ability were more likely to have children who viewed failure in the same way.
On the flip side, parents who viewed failure as an opportunity to grow and learn tended to have children who also held this attitude. And it’s this attitude that holds the key to success.
A ‘growth-mindset’ is valuable for approaching life with a spirit of curiosity, adventure and going after your goals, rather than being afraid to try because you might not succeed (at least not first time).
Being resilient is about recovering from adversity and learning from your mistakes, rather than being ashamed of them. It’s a key ingredient in being happy and making your mark on the world.
So it’s important we model healthy attitudes to failure ourselves, as well as encouraging children to give things a go. Here are five ways you can play with failure this week:
- Try something new
Make the time to give something new a go, in the spirit of fun. Bonus points if it’s something you’ve always wanted to try but thought you’re not very good at. Maybe enrol in a pottery course, take a singing lesson or try out a new recipe. It doesn’t matter what it is – just don’t be afraid if it goes a bit wrong the first time you do it. And let your kids see that you’re giving it a go without knowing whether you’ll get it right.
- Be artistic
There is no right or wrong when it comes to creativity – it’s all about doing. If you don’t feel like playing with pencils or paints, try free-writing: just choose a notebook, set a timer for five minutes and get writing. No-one else will see it and there’s no pressure to be creative – you can scrawl “I feel silly and don’t know what to write” repeatedly if you need to. The key thing is to do it without worrying and see what flows.
- Play in the woods or park
The outdoors doesn’t come with a manual – there are no instructions inside the woods for how to build a den or climb a tree. Take the kids and make up your own rules. And if one approach doesn’t work, no problem, try another!
- Praise effort, not ability
If you praise talent or say someone’s a ‘natural’ at something, it reinforces the idea that their ability is fixed. If you praise the effort they went to, or describe what they actually did, “Wow, you make a tower nearly as tall as you!”, you’re reinforcing the idea that it’s the work they put in that makes a difference. Failing once, twice or twenty times doesn’t matter as much as bouncing back from it does.
- Step back
If they’re at play, let them do it on their terms rather than directing them. Don’t leap in to fix your child’s mistakes – be supportive, but guide them in getting out of tight spots themselves. Have they got stuck up that tree you’ve been climbing? Help them figure out a safe way down under their own steam rather than jumping in. If you can, let them see it’s possible to get out of sticky situations themselves, rather than wait to be rescued.