No dead-end: Failure’s value in your child’s life

Susan Koh, Focus On The Family Singapore // October 24, 2019, 9:40 pm

FOTF_on failure

Teaching our children to accept failure as a part of life builds their resilience. Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash.

At the tender age of 10, my daughter was already painfully aware of how negative being labelled as a failure can be. In school, non-performers were put down by classmates, while praises were lavished on the top scorers.

In contrast, I’ve heard of schools giving out medals to everyone for participating in Sports Day so no one feels excluded. Both extremes give failure a bad reputation; why do we make failure out to be a dead end?

If children are never taught how to deal with setbacks, how can they build the resilience to recover from them?

While we want our children to be successful in their endeavours, the last thing we should do is shield them from every obstacle that comes their way. If children are never taught how to deal with setbacks, how can they build the resilience to recover from them?

Very often, the fear of failure is worse than actual failure itself, as it creates anxiety and hinders our children from trying new things. In order for children to overcome the fear of failure, we must equip them with a healthy perspective of failure. 

More importantly, how can we lift our children from condemning thoughts that their failures define their identity?

1. Teach them that failures are building blocks to success

What if we taught our children that in order to succeed, failures are going to be part of the equation?

We can take on the role of a coach where, instead of taking over their problems, we help them to evaluate the problem and brainstorm possible solutions. Help our children see that God cares about every aspect of their life and He gives wisdom generously to them when they pray and ask (James 1:5).

With each experience of failure, our children will be less fearful of making mistakes. They will likely also learn to approach difficult situations from different angles, helping them to be more creative and persistent at problem-solving.

2. Emphasise progress, not perfection

Children often get disheartened when they see that they are not doing as well as others, but we can help them to focus on the progress they have made. Recognise the efforts they have put in and assure them that if they continue trying, they will be able to get there.

Failures are part of the equation.

Encourage them not to give up just because they have not achieved their goal yet. It just means that there is room for improvement and growth.

Meditating on God’s word directs our children’s thoughts and Philippians 4:13 is a constant reminder that they can do all things through Christ who strengths them.

3. Temper our reaction towards failure

Acknowledge our children’s disappointment but also give them space to articulate their frustration and disappointment.

We are a safe harbour for our children to express their emotions without fear of judgment.

Instead of saying, “You just need to try harder next time,” we can be more empathetic in our response by saying, “I know you trained hard for the trials and I’m sorry you didn’t get into the team. Do you want to talk about it?”

Just as we are a safe harbour for our children to express their emotions without fear of judgment, we can also teach them that they can be real about their feelings before God. God sees every disappointment and collects our tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8).

Our reaction to the setbacks that our children experience shapes their mindset towards failure. If we are always looking for someone to blame, children may try to find an excuse when things don’t go as planned. By responding with more compassion, we are teaching them to take personal responsibility towards failure.

4. Emphasise that they are not defined by failures

For self-esteem to flourish, children need to know they are not defined by their successes or failures. Similarly, we must recognise that our children’s successes or failures do not define us as parents too.

While we may worry about our children failing at school, being overly caught up with grades can be suffocating and disempowering for children when they feel they are not measuring up. As parents, we have to have a realistic view of our children’s abilities and set our expectations accordingly.

Help our children overcome thoughts of condemnation from their peers or other sources that threaten to put them down when they fail. Ground them in their identity as children who are loved no matter what they do or have not done. And even if they feel like they have failed us or even failed God, reassure them that our love for them will never change.

Failures can be painful but learning to change the conversations we have about failure will help reframe how our children perceive failure. With a more positive and growth-oriented mindset, they will be in a stronger position to overcome challenges in the future.

This article was first written for Focus on the Family, Singapore and has been republished with permission.

About the author

Susan Koh, Focus On The Family Singapore

Susan is a self-confessed C+ mum who lives for coffee, chocolate and heartfelt connections. As a mum of one, she believes that the best parenting style is parenting with intention and shares her motherhood journey on her blog, 'A Juggling Mom'.