Often, the children I work with are afraid of trying something new or something they know is a challenge because of their feelings of inadequacy as well as their fear of embarrassment and failure. This usually contributes to and reinforces low self esteem and perceived lack of competence. Consequently, this makes the child take on a “no way” or “why bother” attitude when they are prompted to try something new and/or approach a challenge because the child assumes they will fail, reinforcing said low self esteem, etc., continuing the vicious cycle. Thus, a negative perception about failure can be quickly internalized by a child, causing the child to feel as if they are the problem and that the problem itself is not.
How can adults and parents take an active role in combatting this and supporting a child through these feelings?
Modeling is the biggest indicator of learning. That is, if a child sees that their parents do not fear and/or let failure define them, a child is more likely to take on that mindset. Additionally, putting emphasis on the process of the endeavor, not the outcome, teaches the child that there is value in “trial and error,” making mistakes, and nonlinear progress as these are essential to learning and growth. Finally, this shift in focus can contribute to a child’s ability to accept when they do not win, are not the best, and/or need to work towards improvement in a way where shame, embarrassment, and/or guilt are not at the forefront. Simply put, it is powerful and effective to teach a child that there is “beauty in the process.”
A helpful excerpt from the article:
“[One of the contributing authors] suggests directing praise towards the effort, not the result. “This allows children to build confidence in themselves despite the outcome,” she explains. “Sometimes when we put so much pressure on the outcome, we don’t allow children to have the space to fail forward, which can adversely affect their perceived self-worth or self-confidence. Acknowledging the effort it took to at least try gives children permission to try new things without fear of failure.” And the bigger picture is that the development of the mindset, “I’d rather try and fail than not try at all,” helps them foster a belief in themselves past the outcome, which expands their world of possibilities.”
Nobody likes to fail. At best, it’s embarrassing and frustrating. At worst, it can cause major career or personal setbacks and lead to a downward spiral into negativity. Basically, failure is no fun. So it’s unfortunate that a vast body of research tells us that failing is actually good for us.