Yes, I said it: fail. We all will fail at something sometime. Even, and most especially, the gifted kids who experiment and explore constantly, will fail at something. Knowing what to do with your feelings when you fail is essential for a happy life. And that is why you will thank me later.
Angel Duckworth is one of my heroes. Her focus on building grit is so important in this new world we live in. In the old days, say 50 years ago, families and religious institutions provided a roadmap for children to handle challenges in life. Maybe it didn’t always provide the widest highway for people with differences, but opportunities to learn perseverance and receive support after a failure were more available. I don’t believe we can turn back the clock, so it is time to move forward and create new structures. And this time, everyone will fit under the tent and get more support.
When we fail, we have the choice to feel bad or feel inspired. The child who believes that his intelligence and his abilities are fixed will feel worse, perhaps even ashamed. That child will be less likely to want to feel those emotions again, and will look for situations that ensure success. At any cost. Even cheating. The rise in anxiety disorders and suicide in the college-age population has me worried about how these kids see failure. It doesn’t have to be a crisis, it can be a learning experience in the truest sense. Why you failed and what to do differently (if possible) are things you can learn, but only if you aren’t crushed or horrified that you failed.
The child who knows that failure is common to all of us eventually, and is not a sign of weakness or lower ability, will give things another try. In fact, that child will not want to engage in a “sure thing”, whether it is a class, a sport, or an interaction in which there is no challenge. The child who isn’t afraid of failure will welcome novelty and risk. They have, as Dr. Duckworth would call it, a growth mindset. Failure is their clue that some variable in the experiment should change; useful information for their next attempt.
Just imagine what your child could do if she wasn’t afraid to fail! Solve the many health and environmental challenges we have, broker peace between groups and countries, raise a family that believes in the power of failure….anything!
If you have a fixed mindset about failure, if you were raised to take the sure thing, the easy road to success, use the emergency instructions you get from the airlines. Change your mindset before helping your child to change theirs. You can thank me later.