“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
Failure is as Easy as Falling off a Bike
Do you remember when you learned to ride a bike without training wheels? If you were like most kids, your Mom or Dad held your seat while you peddled. Eventually Mom or Dad let go and you were on your way.
Maybe you picked up the knack of bike riding the minute you were on your own. But if you were like most of us, you peddled a few feet before toppling over. You were a failure. Or were you?
The process of learning to ride a bike often involves several spills. Most parents realize this. Yet time after time Mom and Dad will run behind the bike only to let go and wait for their child to succeed or fail.
Parents Need to Understand the Benefit of Failure
As parents we want success for our children. From the time they are babies we shield and protect them from harm. We hold their hands when they cross the street. We tie their shoes so they won’t trip. We coach and lead our little ones through life.
Despite our best intentions, however, as parents we need to consider that helping our children too much could be harming them. We need to learn that while the thrill of victory is important to shaping little minds, so is experiencing the agony of defeat. We need to understand that there is substantial benefit in allowing our children to fail.
J.K. Rowling, Author of Harry Potter Tells Why Failure is Important in Life
In a 2008 commencement address at Harvard University, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, stood in front of thousands of graduates and their families and told them that she wished for them to fail. In her speech, entitled The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, Rowling related the events of her own life and how she was a disappointment to her family.
Rowling described herself as a failure. She said, “The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
Failure, however, did not shatter Rowling. Instead it incited her passion. In telling of her experience, Rowling said:
“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”
Why is Failure Important
A s Rowling notes, failure is a key to eventual success. The process of trial and error builds character. The progression that comes from improving on mistakes creates confidence. Parents need to understand that inner strength is nurtured and grows when a child is given a chance to be tested, to fail, and to pick his or herself up and try again.
What Should a Parent Do?
Hard as it may be, as parent we need to step back and allow our children to fail. That may mean allowing them to go to school when their homework isn’t finished and then permitting them to suffer the consequences. It may mean watching them try out for team when, as a parent, you aren’t sure that they are ready. It may mean giving up some of the control that has enabled us to parent so effectively.
To better cope with failure, parents should teach their children the following three lessons.
Lesson One: To Accept Failure as Part of Life
Instead of protecting our children from hardships, our children should be encouraged to try new things even if there is a potential for failure. In doing this, we should remind our children that they may not always be successful but that we are proud of their attempts. When our children experience failure, we can discuss with them the fact that success is not always possible but that there may be other opportunities in the future.
Lesson Two: To Plan for Failure
As parents we should be open with our children about how they will feel if they don’t succeed. We should explain that these feelings of disappointment are natural and that failing at one thing does not mean our child is a failure at everything. We can also help our children think about what they will do if they don’t succeed. Will they try something new, use a new approach or abandon the effort altogether? By helping our children think about how they will respond to failure, we enable them to develop important coping skills.
Lesson Three: Learn from Failure
Finally, as parents we can help our children use failure as an opportunity to grow. We can discuss the lessons learned in an unsuccessful endeavor. We can help our children find ways to improve. By using failure as an opportunity to learn, we can help our children recover from disappointment and prepare them for a new attempt.
Failure is a fact of life. As Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
With failure comes strength. With strength comes success. As parents the best gift we can give our children is to permit them the chance to experience the lows so they can achieve great heights.