The ‘F Word’: Can You Give Your Kids the Gift of Failure?

Welcome to Mummylogues. A series dedicated to candid conversations, relatable tips and resources for navigating through pregnancy and motherhood.

This edition features Mrs Neerja Birla, a prolific thought leader, change maker and strong advocate in the fields of mental health and education. Her role as a mother is the one closest to her heart and here she lends an honest perspective on the ‘F word’ and why we should teach our children to accept failure.

“How do I help my child succeed in life?” As an educator, this is one of the most common questions I get during interactions with parents. We try to give our children the best opportunities, we motivate them and we teach to strive for success. But there’s something that we forget to do. We teach them to fly, but we forget to teach them how to fall. I think that while we teach them to work hard for their goals, it’s even more important to teach them what to do when they can’t quite reach it.

Our kids are growing up in a world of instant gratification and constant affirmation.  But life is not going to say ‘Yes’ to them all the time. As the Rolling Stones sang almost 50 years ago, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” And that’s the truth of it. Even when your child works hard and tries their best, and do everything else they’re supposed to, they might not win. Not everyone can be first in class, every time. How are they going to deal with the heartache, the disappointment, the chink in their self-confidence?

Help them get used to hearing ‘no’

I believe that saying ‘no’ to your kids occasionally, will help inoculate them towards failure in the long run. It teaches them to take rejection in its stride.  When you tell a child that they can’t have something, you will notice how their minds quickly try to find ways to turn the ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. “But why…”, “But what if I do this…” I think that’s how resilience is born. They not only learn to accept a setback, but to find ways to get around it. It helps them understand that failing is not the opposite of success but rather, a stepping-stone to it.

Developing a growth mindset

There is one thing that all successful individuals will agree on: you will have more failures than successes in life. One of the ways you can help your child deal with failure, is to teach them to ‘fail forward.’ Originally a business concept, it simply means learning from your errors.

A study published in Developmental Cognitive Science revealed that after making a mistake, children with growth mindsets show a larger brain response than those with fixed mindsets. They were also more likely to improve their performance as a result. Learning from small failures early on in life will help them develop the mental fortitude and acumen to deal with bigger problems later.

The Gift of Failure

As parents, we have our own fears and anxieties when we see our kids struggle. From my own experience, I know how hard it is to fight that instinct to protect them from every bad thing. But the best and hardest lesson I internalised is that failure is not a bad word – it is a survival skill. F.A.I.L, could after all stand for ‘first attempt in learning.’

If every failure is an opportunity, then I for one, would want my kids to seize that opportunity. So, if you want your kids to succeed in life, teach them to fail. If they can conquer failure, they can conquer anything they want.

About Neerja Birla

A Thought Leader and Change maker, Mrs. Neerja Birla is dedicated to empowering various factions of society through her numerous initiatives and collaborative endeavours.

She is the Founder and Chairperson of Mpower, a movement that aims to affect a positive change in the attitudes towards mental health. A strong advocate in the field of education, she chairs The Aditya Birla World Academy (a pioneering educational institute) as well as The Aditya Birla Integrated School, a state-of-the-art holistic learning environment for children with learning and intellectual disabilities. As part of her commitment to building a holistic education base, she has also founded Aditya Birla Education Academy, with the objective of nurturing the aspirations of the brilliant and dedicated educators who nurture young minds.

The proud mother of three successful and loving children, Ananyashree, Aryaman Vikram and Advaitesha – her role as a mother is the closest to her heart. An outdoor sports enthusiast, she is an avid reader who finds solace in listening to music and wishes to call herself a traveller!

Follow her on Twitter @NeerjaBirla

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