Helping Your Tweens and Teens Fail!

Weird topic? Here, my entire career is devoted to success and to teaching the skills of success to kids and parents. Usually I write about reaching potential and how parents can help their kids to do just that. Why on earth would we want to help our kids fail?

Failure is an incredibly important aspect of success. How we fail, determines in large part, what we will succeed at. Success at things and in life depends upon our willingness to put ourselves out there and take a risk. When we fear failure we are less likely to take the chance of bringing any failure into our lives. In other words, we are afraid of trying new things, trying difficult things - we are afraid of trying.

In our zeal to create young people with higher self esteem, the modern approach to parenting and schooling, particularly in the younger years, discourages competition and failure. It is almost impossible to fail in structured environments like school - where F's no longer exist and have been replaced with "Needs Improvement". Whether that is right or wrong, I can't say. What I can say is that it is not a realistic representation of the real world. We all know that in the real world - the grown up world - where fair is not a requirement and in fact, is rarely experienced, there are "F's". There are real moments where we fail, bomb, lose, get fired. Kids experience some form of this, but not the definitive FAILURE. They may lose a game, they may get poor grades, but these are gradients of failure.

As kids travel through the middle school years & into their teens, they experience the reality of failure, often for the first time. Failing the Bronze Medallion exam, flunking the driver's exam, not getting the summer job, not getting into the specialized High School programme etc. How they cope with that failure and how we help them to cope, will have a huge impact on what they will try in the future.

So, how can we help them fail? Or more specifically, how can we help them when they do fail?

1. Failure is the other side of the success coin. If you don't make the toss, you never stand a chance. Help you kids see failure as a necessary part of life. Something ventured. Help them to see that the person who exposes themselves to the possibility of failure is heroic in their bravery. Failure means that you put yourself out there and you tried something hard. You didn't stay home and only do something that you knew you'd succeed at. Failure means that you tried something with risk - that risk was failure.

2. Let them feel bad. We don't have to wear our smiley faces all the time. Allow the space for your child to feel bad about their failure. It's natural to feel bad, so don't try to cheer them up or make little of their loss. Talk to them about it. Ask them how they feel. Make it clear that feeling bad is expected and nothing to be alarmed about. Bad feelings are a part of life, not a threat to your existence.

3. Help them find a way to get back on that horse. Help them discover some way to try again, and encourage them to do so. Help them see that most failures are time tied and not permanent. If you fail the swimming test, you can try it again. Success is often about perseverance. Teach your kids to persevere.

It is funny to think that the very source of the greatest achievements in the world have come on the heels of great failures. It is hard for us, as adults to stay mindful of that, but when we do and we teach that to our kids, we offer them the chance that maybe some of us never had. The chance to try, fail, brush ourselves off and try again. How much different would your life have been if you knew that at 13?