Childhood is a time for learning, but it is also inevitably a time for extreme failure and mistake-making. There are monumental efforts like taking first steps, building too-high Lego towers, riding a bike, learning to read, ice skate or play a new sport. In our house,
some many of these have ended up with great frustration and lots of tears. It comes with the territory though, right? Lately, I’ve been wondering: How can I help my children understand that these failures happen to everyone and are opportunities to learn?
As we age, it is natural to gravitate towards activities, sports, and jobs that we are good at, while avoiding those that frustrate us. When was the last time you stepped outside of your comfort zone and failed at something? Like, REALLY failed? More than that, when was the last time you talked about how it felt and how you overcame it? Thinking about all of this, I realize that I need to be better about experiencing failure and pointing out my mistakes to my children – my two biological ones and those I work with each day at school.
Enter: doing something I’m awful at. I started swimming a few weeks ago, partly because it’s a challenge for me. “Challenge” being the optimistic version of calling it “difficult.” I’m also trying to learn French – thank you, Rosetta Stone, and to play paddle/platform tennis. (Yes, I played college tennis which arguably makes it MORE frustrating. That’s for another post.) Why? Because I haven’t sat in a formal classroom in over ten years and I don’t like doing things that I’m not good at. It’s HARD to understand what it’s like to learn something new. It’s really valuable to envision experiencing that consistently. That frustration, the need for perseverence and making mistakes is important for perspective and empathy.
My just-turned-4-year-old is also competitive. (Understatement). Any of you who’ve ever met him know that. When I run (pushing him and his brother in the stroller), he asks me things like “Mommy, are you really trying?” – which is, admittedly, hysterical. Rather than laugh (which is my initial response), I should respond without placing blame and take pride for the effort I am exhibiting, but point out that we can’t always come in first place, have the best project, or be ‘in the star’ at school. I need to do it every day. I need to say simple things like “Mommy forgot to put your sneakers into your backpack today. I’m sorry. Silly, Mommy!” or “Oh no! I made a mistake and forgot to get bananas at the store even though it was on my list.” Just today I guessed the wrong elevator would come while we were at the mall. “Oh well! Mommy was wrong. No big deal, right?” This comment elicited a smile and a look of understanding from my oldest. Win. By being open about these “oops” moments (as small as they may seem), I’m hoping to show my children that it’s okay to make mistakes, take risks and fail as long as there are lessons learned.
How do you experience and talk about failure with your children?