Scholastic achievement is measured in terms of the number of right answers a child gives. But learning a new activity—a musical instrument or a sport, for example—often involves an initial period of gaffes and blunders. A person has to be bad at an activity before he or she is good; similarly, a person often has to fail repeatedly in order to succeed. In my middle-grade book, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, the heroine, Auggie Jones, endures several rounds of rejection before finally convincing her hometown that the folk art environment she’s created with her grandfather is beautiful.
Convincing children to believe in themselves, as Auggie does, and to learn from their mistakes rather than allowing a fear of failure to keep them from enjoying new experiences, can be tricky. But it is possible. Here are five foolproof methods that can help:
- Compliment the effort, not the result. Make sure to compliment what a child tries as much as what he or she has successfully accomplished. Recognize the courage it took to try out for a team or a play or to enroll in a new subject at school. Emphasize your child’s bravery rather than the final outcome.
- Let your child teach you something. Allow your child to show you something he or she has mastered … something “techie” you can do with your phone, for instance. For younger children especially, it’ll be refreshing to realize that adults are not good at everything.
- Try something new yourself. Share your own attempts at success as you tackle something you’ve always wanted to know how to do: play golf or the guitar, try your hand at photography, or train for a marathon. Let your child see you practice and flounder and, most importantly, have a good attitude and a sense of humor about your missteps.
- Keep a failure journal. Share your successes and your failures together—open your ears and really listen. A meeting that went horribly wrong for you can help soften the blow of your child’s own bad grade on a pop quiz. But be sure to take this a step further and brainstorm what you’ll do differently next time.
- Improve. A big part of overcoming the fear of failure is understanding how to recover from a mistake. Be sure to show your child how you’re bouncing back from your own mistakes and are improving. Again, recognize and compliment the ways your child is improving, too.
Overall, no parent wants their child to become so centered on external success that they will never try new activities. These methods will encourage a child to acknowledge smaller, often-internal achievements, lessons learned or hurdles overcome. Just as Auggie discovers her special talent after a period of disasters and letdowns, so can eliminating the fear of failure allow your child to experiment, attempt new undertakings and discover who they are in the process.
Holly Schindler (www.hollyschindler.com) is a former music teacher and the author of two YA novels, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt. Her first middle-grade novel, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, was released on February 6, 2014.