Children (and adults) love to be successful. However, they often have trouble understanding that the keys to success are dedication and determination, not fixed skill or ability.
Failure is not often held in high regard – especially when it comes to parenting. Parents strive each day to seek a successful future for their child and with good reason. However, the hard fact is that your child will fail. A lot. Whether that is spilling a gallon of milk (that you just bought!) all over the kitchen floor or just not understanding why "3 + 2 = 5" but "3 x 2 = 6", parents have the opportunity to celebrate failure in such a way that it promotes a love for learning. There are so many parenting strategies to develop this type of mindset in your child.
Provide appropriate feedback when they are successful.
Children (and adults) love to be successful. However, they often have trouble understanding that the keys to success are dedication and determination, not fixed skill or ability. This lack of understanding leads to disappointment and shame as a child may feel like they are not “good enough” or “smart enough” when they, inevitably, fail. In order to focus on hard-work rather than skill as the key to success, try focusing your feedback on the process rather than their ability as a person.
- “Good job” rather than “good boy” so that he doesn’t feel like a “bad boy” if he gets a math problem wrong.
- “I can tell you worked really hard” rather than “you’re so smart” so that she doesn’t considered herself “dumb” when the Lego tower she built falls down.
- “You found a good way to do this; could you find other ways that work?” rather than “you’re very good at this!” so that they are always encouraged to be creative and never stop learning.
- “You did a good job drawing” rather than “you’re a good drawer” to focus on their achievement rather than an innate ability.
- “Look at how you…” rather than “I like your…” and to focus their attention on their method for success rather than impressing you.
- “You should be so proud of yourself!” rather than “I’m so proud of you” so that they recognize their own accomplishments as worthwhile and meaningful even when you aren’t present.
Look out for absolutes.
Children often fall into patterns of absolutes. Either they are good are drawing or they are horrible at drawing. Either they are smart or they are dumb. The dangers of this mindset extend to both ends of the spectrum. Parents never want their children to feel disheartened by failure or discouraged to try new things because it may lead to failure. In order to promote a more dynamic way of viewing intelligence, pay attention to the way your child talks about it.
Watch out for these absolutes…
- I always spell a word wrong.
- I will never learn to tie my shoes right!
- I am the best student in my class.
- I am the worst baseball player in the world.
Instead, focus on their hard-work…
- You have really been working hard with your spelling homework lately.
- You have not tied your shoes yet, but you are almost there!
- You put so much care and time into your schoolwork; you should be proud!
- Your swing is really improving; keep practicing!
Be mindful of criticism.
When children fail, it is important for parents to lend them support and affection while providing them with the tools they need to be successful in the future. In order to guide them through this learning experience, provide alternatives and start a conversation rather than focusing on their failure.
When your child acts out, try saying…
- “What will we do differently in the future?” rather than “You’re being bad.”
When your child struggles in school, try saying…
- “Maybe you should find another way to do it” rather than “I’m disappointed in you".
Engage in daily conversation.
At the dinner table. During the car ride home. Before a bedtime story. Take this as an opportunity to really engage your child in an active learning discussion.
- “What did you learn today?” rather than “How was your day?”
- Ask about their highs and lows of the day and share yours too. It is important to share your successes and failures with your kid in order to model a love for learning.
- “What was a mistake you made that taught you something?”
- “What did you try hard at today?”
Also take this opportunity to…
- Encourage risk-taking!
- Explain to your child that learning makes the brain grow stronger. Explain to your child that intelligence is not fixed and give examples from their life or yours.
- Write these ideas down! Set up a “goal chart” to hang on the refrigerator. Better yet, have your child write down goals and methods for success and hang it somewhere where it can be seen daily. Goals can be as simple as "learning to tie your shoe" or "learning to make cookies".
At first, it may seem daunting to model a positive attitude surrounding failure – especially when you may struggle with failure yourself. A change in perspective may not come overnight. That being said, it is so important to provide your child with the right tools to advocate for themselves when you can’t be there to advocate for them.
Let them fly (and fall a few times too!)
Kristin is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Class of 2017. She is currently enrolled in the B/MT program at the Curry School of Education majoring in French and Elementary Education with an endorsement in English as a Second Language. She works as an America Reads tutor at Buford Middle School and Venable Elementary School and spends most of her time working in the English as a Second Language classroom. At the University of Virginia, Kristin has volunteered in several Madison House programs such as Cavs in the Classroom, Day Care at the International School of Charlottesville and Day in the Life. She spends her summers working as a Residential Assistant for the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. Kristin is from the southwest suburbs of Chicago where she enjoys(?) cold winters and nasally vowels. She finds great joy in working with exceptional youth and hopes to use her experience to support children and their families as they learn to fly together!