Why should we learn to accept failure

How children can learn to deal with failure

Setbacks and failures are part of learning and working. The better a child learns to deal with it, the more relaxed and focused it can learn. As a mother or father, there are a number of things you can do to instill confidence in the child, to strengthen their self-confidence in dealing with demands and to protect their self-esteem in the event of setbacks and failures.

Show understanding for the child's disappointment

Maria comes home from school. When she enters the living room, her mother immediately sees how depressed she looks. She got a bad grade again in the dictation - despite all the practice.

Her mother takes her in her arms and asks: "What's going on?"

Maria looks depressed at the floor and says in tears: “I was bad at dictation again! Everything is red and the teacher said I should prepare better. "

Her mother is secretly angry with the teacher. In the end, she practiced the dictation five times with Maria. She pulls herself together and says: “Come on Maria, that's not so bad. It's just a dictation. "

Maria wriggles out of the embrace and disappears into her room.

When children are disappointed, they first need understanding. However, showing understanding is not that easy as we often mistake it for comfort or distraction, or believe that understanding would stop the child from making an effort.

The answer from Maria's mother is well-intentioned. But how do we adults feel when someone tries to comfort us in this way?

Let's assume you come home after a frustrating experience, tell your partner and the first thing he says is: "It's not that tragic." He means well and wants to get you out of your emotional low. But how do you react?

You will want to explain to him why this is very disappointing to you. In your frustration you will not feel understood or accepted. You may even get angry and feel like he is not taking you seriously.

Children can handle negative feelings. We don't have to save them from it or distract them from it. We show understanding when we try to understand the child's feelings and help them express them. It could look like this:

Mother: "What's going on?"

Maria: "Insufficient dictation again!"

Mother: "Are you disappointed, huh ...?"

Maria: "I've practiced so much!"

Mother: “I know - you really tried hard. Do you want to show me or do you want to do something else first? "

In this way, the mother shows the daughter that she may be disappointed, that she understands this feeling and that she is there for her if she so wants.

Ask the child what they need

While some children want to talk about failure, others prefer to be allowed to distract themselves or just get a hug.

If your child is frustrated, you can offer suggestions. Maria's father asks his daughter: "Do you want to take me for a walk or play a little until you feel better?"

You can also ask the child, "What would be good for you now?"

Accept the answer. Mothers in particular often think it's best to talk about it. But children - especially boys - would often rather play a round than deal with their feelings in depth.

Develop a ritual for dealing with failure

Rituals are very helpful in dealing with failures. Adapted, fearful and hardworking children in particular are often very busy with how their parents will react when they come home with a bad grade.

A ritual offers security: the child knows what is going to happen and can adapt to it.

In a parenting course on numeracy problems, I asked parents how they can motivate their children to keep getting involved in arithmetic despite the many failures. One mother said: I expect my daughter to practice 10 minutes a day with me - I'm adamant about that. If she comes home with a maths test and has achieved a sufficient grade, we will go out for an award trip together. When I asked how she would react to an unsatisfactory grade, she replied: “Then let's go eat a consolation ice cream! I want my daughter to know how much I appreciate the fact that she keeps getting involved in practice and that she feels: If we are successful, we are happy with you - if we fail, we will support you. "

Such a philosophy protects the self-esteem of children even in the case of frequent setbacks and also motivates the child to keep on practicing.

Convey confidence

Parents who are confident show the child that they believe in their possibilities. Children perceive their parents as big, wise and competent. It is all the more threatening for a child when the parents no longer know what to do. This can be seen in the father's reaction:

Father: "What's going on?"

Maria: "Insufficient dictation again!"

Father: “Man Maria! Now we've practiced the dictation so many times! What should we still do !? "

This reaction arises from the disappointment and helplessness of the father. He put a lot of effort into practicing the dictation with Maria and is correspondingly frustrated because the whole work does not seem to be bearing any fruit.

From this brief statement, Maria learns that it is bad when one experiences failure. This is so tragic because Mary made an effort and prepared herself for the exam. The sentence “What else should we do !?” expresses the father's helplessness - but if the great, clever, urbane father doesn't know what to do: how should Mary know? She is ten. She tried everything. She can't do it.

This reaction only makes Maria more nervous the next time she dictates. Finally she knows: “I won't be able to do it again. There is no solution. And my parents can hardly cope with the fact that I'm so bad. "

Even with this reaction, many parents have the feeling that they are conveying something positive to the child. In seminars and lectures, professionally successful fathers keep telling us that they want to prepare their children for life in this way, "after all, performance is also required later in professional life".

We oppose the following points:

  • In the adult world, you have chosen your job based on your strengths, not your weaknesses - you can achieve the required performance with a little effort much more easily than your child. For Maria, writing dictations feels like her father - a gifted lawyer - has to earn his salary next month by doing a high jump competition or participating in a singing competition.
  • Repeated experiences of helplessness do not help a child to cope better with performance requirements later - on the contrary: Such reactions convey to the child that failures are terrible and cannot be averted.
  • Have you really tried everything? Maria's father wringing his hands asks what else should be done, but: So far, he has tried exactly one strategy. He dictated the dictation x times. In his job he reacts completely differently: If he cannot solve a problem with a certain strategy, he thinks about what he could do differently and tries a new method. With Maria he has already seen fifteen times that it is of no use if he dictates the dictation to her five or ten times. Nevertheless, he does exactly the same on attempt 16 and is surprised that it doesn't work again. Instead of doing the same thing again, he could do some research: Why do some children have trouble spelling? Does my daughter belong to it? If so, what is helpful then? What methods are there? How can I help effectively and what progress can I realistically expect from my child over what period of time?
  • If the father has really tried everything, he could always change his priorities and adjust his bar. It may well be that Maria will struggle with spelling all her life. It can be helpful for parents and children to accept this, not make a drama out of it, adjust the standards and adjust to small advances in this area. Later, Maria will write on the laptop and switch on the spelling program - just like us adults. The more Maria's father can accept his daughter as she is, the sooner she will be ready to practice despite her weakness and small progress. The more he sees, appreciates and promotes her strengths in other areas, the more self-confidence his daughter will gain and the better she will later know which strengths she can build on and in which professions she has something to offer.

To instill confidence, we can show the child that:

  • There are improvements - at least in some areas - and the effort is worth it
  • We look forward to small improvements
  • The possibilities are far from exhausted

In practice it could look like this:

Mother: "What's wrong?"

Maria: "Again totally bad!"

Mother: "In dictation?"

Maria: "Yes!"

Mother: “And you learned so much in the process. Are you very disappointed? "

Maria: "Yes!"

Father: “I can understand that well - I feel the same way when I've tried hard and still not succeed. Do you want to take a walk with me or play a little until you feel better? "

Maria: "Take a walk - but we're not talking about school!"

Father: "O.k. - we don't even have to talk if you want to. I'll get the dog leash. "

In the evening after dinner, the parents take up the topic again.

Father: "Maria - I know you don't want to talk about it - but I would think it would be good if we could take another look at the dictation and ask ourselves how we could proceed next time. Is that okay with you? "

Maria: "Very well."

Mother: "O.k .... yes it has a lot of flaws. But I just noticed that you never confused “that” and “that”. That was your main mistake last time and now you've got it right every time. "

Maria: “Right. But the grade is still bad. "

Father: “Yes… you know, maybe it just doesn't do that much if we write these dictations x times. Suggestion: I'll take a look on the internet and in the bookstore this week to see how best to practice spelling and then let's see what we can do together. I Agree?"

Maria: "Yes!"

Mother: “Do you have another suggestion, Maria? How could we proceed? "

Maria: "Ms. Meier said that I make a lot of mistakes in upper and lower case and that she could give me sheets ..."

Father: “That sounds good. Do you ask Ms. Meier about the leaves and I look on the internet and the bookstore? "

Maria: "It's good."

In this example, Maria learns that her parents can understand their frustration, but are also confident at the same time. You see small improvements and are ready to support Maria. But they also show that you expect Maria to work constructively on a solution.

Separate achievement and love

The more children feel that they have to fight for the attention and attention of parents and teachers with good performance, the more threatening failures become for self-esteem.

While some children and young people develop fear of exams as a result, others react with resistance and refusal to perform.

However, if you separate the relationship and performance levels, this can greatly relax the situation and increase motivation. I would like to give you a personal example of this:

When I (Fabian) started high school, I was the only one in the class who didn't play an instrument. In the first exam in music lessons, a piece of music was played to us and we had to answer questions about the instruments, rhythms, etc. that appeared in it. I had no idea and only got 2 out of 24 points in the exam. Accordingly, the grade was bad.

Everyone else in the class had good to very good grades and some made fun of me.

When I got home there was a letter from my single teacher in the mailbox. It said:

Dear Fabian

I am very sorry that I had to give you such a bad grade. I know that you don't play an instrument and that you are at a disadvantage compared to the others.

I'm always happy about how well you're doing in class and I hope we continue to have it so well together.

Kind regards,

Your single teacher, sir ...

This single teacher then had a very bad but very enthusiastic student for three years.

Sometimes when children get a bad grade, they are convinced that the teacher doesn't like them personally. For some teachers this is actually the case.

If you are a teacher and you like children who are poorly performing as well, you need to prove it to them. I would probably have been unsure of what my single teacher would think of me after the disastrous exam. The clear sign in the sense of "Your performance is bad, but everything is right between us" was not only an important protection for my self-esteem, but also a great boost of motivation. Even when my performance didn't improve over the next few years, I continued to try my best - after all, I knew that one of my favorite teachers was counting on me in class!

If you would like to know more precisely how you can strengthen children in dealing with frustration, problems and failures, we recommend our parents' seminar "Strengthening children for life" and our new book "Secure, courageous, free - how children find inner strength" :