Learning to Fail: Turning a Mistake into an Opportunity for Growth

Guest article from TestingMom.com

Many parents feel the strong pull to shield their children from their self-perceived notion of what it means to fail.  They want to ensure that their child experiences success in all aspects of his or her life, which is a natural motivation, as this desire is often shaped by the love and emotional attachment parents feel toward their child. 

The need for continuous success and growth can also derive from the unrealistic pressures set in place by society. As the academic workload increases, colleges become more selective, and the job application process is more intense, emotions are heightened. So, parents may go to extreme and unrealistic lengths to ensure that their child doesn’t have to experience the emotional consequences of a failing grade on a test or the disappointment of not making a sports team. However, learning to fail is an important building to growth and success. 

Take the example of a young child who is first learning to walk. The first time he stands on his own two feet, he appears to wobble as he grips onto his parent to steady himself. The next time he tries, he begins to exude a greater confidence in maintaining his own balance. Although he continues to fall, he begins to have the understanding as to how to get back up. This small, yet significant, shift in attitude should be considered a monumental success for both the child and the parent. Success then comes in the form of trust. Both the child and the parent had to maintain faith in the other throughout the course of this challenging situation. The parent also had to be okay with the potential that the child could lose his balance and fall. In this context mistakes are inevitable, but also beautiful, as they motivate growth, perseverance, and the ability to learn. Trust is a major theme in all growth. 

When your child embraces failure and begins to feel comfortable with making mistakes, he is opening himself up to invaluable learning opportunities. When outside pressure is alleviated and he has the freedom to make an error and learn from it, the potential for growth is endless. 

Rising Above the Fear of Failure 

Parents can help their child understand the importance of failure and the ways in which it can help her to learn and grow. In order to do this, it is important to create a safe and secure environment where the child feels comfortable making mistakes. Failure really can promote a newfound self-awareness without the fear of a looming consequence. 

Growth Mindset versus a Fixed Mindset 

The concept of a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset” are extremely relevant when discussing how to turn failure into a success. Let us define our terms. In a fixed mindset, there is the belief that an individual’s qualities are fixed and not subject to growth. An individual with a fixed mindset may strongly believe that his intelligence and talents are set in stone. As a result, he may not put his energy into working to develop such traits. In this case, a fear of failure, or the desire to remain in one’s comfort zone, may lead to a fixed belief. The individual may feel as if failure is reflective of his limited abilities rather than their opportunity to grow. 

In contrast, a growth mindset is the philosophy that an individual’s learning and intellectual abilities can develop with time and experience. When an individual is more open to personal growth, she begins to realize that her perseverance and attitude has an impact on her rate of success. For example, a person with this mindset may not look at a failing grade as a reflection of her limitations but instead a chance to do better.  Although she may be disappointed, she sees this event as an opportunity to improve. She may explore alternative methods of studying, seeking extra help and finding ways to self-motivate. In essence, her challenges help her to grow. As a parent, you can encourage “a growth mindset.” Gently push your child to try new things and see the beauty in making mistakes. Try to have her see that feedback from teachers and peers isn’t a punishment, but something that can be constructive and eye opening. 

Failure as a Window into Self-reflection and Understanding

Making a single mistake could give a person critical insight into some of the skills that he excels at and other skills that may need some additional strengthening. Failure can be fantastic in that it allows one to see that there are different routes or strategies to help him succeed. Learning is not a “one size fits all” endeavor and often must be customized to the individual learner. When one takes risks, he will be able to better discover how he thinks, the resources he needs to excel, and the approaches with which he is most comfortable. Learning to learn isn’t about conformity, but a personal journey that is filled with bits and pieces of successes, failures, and plateaus. One must learn to embrace the natural peaks and valleys that occur. Failure is an opportunity to learn, grow, and discover, and parents can help lay the foundation for this process through genuine love, support, and encouragement. 

Bonus Tip: We encourage parents to try these flash cards to practice together—giving your child a safe place to fail and then celebrate the success that follows!