One of the ideas that we teach the children in our program is that “Failure Is Your Friend.” The idea of “Failure Is Your Friend” is that failure builds resilience and that we often learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.
Key to this idea is massive support from the people in their lives because when children fail over and over and don’t have the support to keep trying, all they learn is that they’re failures. Resilience comes not from failing, but from the experience of learning that you can pick yourself up, try again, and succeed. That requires some experience of success, and emotional support from those who care to keep trying.
So, while it’s true that children learn from overcoming challenges, they also learn when they experience success, which motivates them to tackle more difficult challenges.
All parents want to protect their children — that’s our job! — but we also don’t want to stymie the development of self-confidence, resourcefulness, and grit. So how do we hit that sweet spot of appropriate support and protection on the one hand, and enough independence to build confidence and resilience on the other? Here are some tips!
Give them manageable challenges and then step back
“Scaffolding,” could be defined as the framework you give your child on which they build. You demonstrate how to do something, or you use words to suggest a strategy, or you simply observe them. This assistance helps them to succeed when they try something new, and small successes achieved with your help give them the confidence to try new things themselves. Scaffolding also teaches children that help is always available if they need it.
Remember that perfection is not the goal
Resist the temptation to “improve” on your child’s task, unless the outcome is vitally important. Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence and prevents them from learning for themselves.
Focus on effort, not result
Give positive feedback about specific things that they have control over, like hard work or perseverance, rather than things they feel they have no control over, like being smart. The point is never the product, your goal is for them to keep trying, practicing, improving, and for them to learn that when they work hard, they can accomplish their goals.
Encourage them and model positive self-talk
Whatever you model, your child will learn and will emulate. Positive self-talk has been shown to improve our ability to master difficult tasks, unlike the self-disparaging comments many of us so automatically make. If something negative about your child — or, equally important, about yourself — starts to come out of your mouth, bite your tongue. Most parents know better than to say “What an idiot!” to their child (and most of them are able to stop themselves), but a surprising number see nothing wrong with berating themselves that way in front of their kids. Just train yourself not to do it. (It certainly isn’t good for you, either. Would you let anyone else talk to you that way?)
At the end of the day, our job as parents is to work ourselves out of a job, and it starts when our children are very young. All kids eventually grow up and live their lives without us. There is an old saying that the best two things you can give your children are roots and wings. Think of the roots as love and support, and self-confidence as the wings. We want our children to have an abundance of both.