Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Make Your Child FAILURE-PROOF!

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
Thomas A. Edison 

There are countless ways that learning can be derailed, but none is as insidious and long lasting as mis-interpreting failure. I'm a dad of four amazing kids. Each has climbed to amazing heights, yet each and every one has also stumbled and fallen. That's life. There is nothing wrong with messing up. There is nothing wrong with coming up short. This is nothing wrong with flat out FAILURE! The hard part is that as a parent, you don't want them to suffer through it, or do you? Actually, you want them to fall (although not ALL the time...and please no broken bones), because that is when your child will learn something to pick themselves back up and soldier on!

The best academic resources in the world are ineffectual if a learner doubts the efficacy of their efforts. Stress affects learning and this effect is compounded when a learner wallows in despair till they become almost cognitively paralyzed. We all want what is best for our kids, but few things can equip your child better than learning how to dust themselves off and get back on track. It sounds so simple, but THIS is how the brain works. The analysis, countless comparisons, high level problem solving, critical thinking, creative inspiration, the tough minded effort...this is what should spring from the well of failure. It is how our brain should ideally handle setbacks. Failure is nothing more than a learning opportunity. It can become poisonous if perceived negatively! This is when spirits are crushed and effort dissolves into apathy.

So what can you do about it? First of all remember, no one knows your children as well as you do. Therefore, no one will ever be in a better position to help your child better than you can. That is critical, because sometimes parents sell themselves short. Never do that! You will always be your child's first and most influential teacher, and this is a lesson that you will need to consistently deliver for many years to come. Your mission will be simple. Get your kids thinking about failure the way they should be thinking about failure.

Failure hurts us when we perceive it in one of three ways, so guard against this at ALL costs. First off, failure hurts us when we think it’s permanent. There is nothing permanent about failure. You failed a test, study more and try again. Did you fall off your bike? Keep practicing. Did you gain some unwanted pounds? Eat right and exercise. The only way failure can become permanent is if you make it permanent. This is especially true in regards to the brain. Because of neuroplasticity (all it means is that the brain is moldable and malleable), it is impossible to prevent your brain from learning. With time and effort you WILL learn more. It's a fact. You can't fight it. You just learned something new right now. HA! I dare you to unlearn it (causing head trauma to yourself is not allowed...that's cheating). Don't let your child believe failure is permanent.

Failure again hurts us when we perceive it as personal. I had a horrible time with math as a kid. I thought "I'm no good at math, but everyone else is great at it." I convinced myself of it and I shut down. I should not have taken this failure personally. It wasn't like math was hiding around the corner waiting to jump out and get me (There goes,, Aha, there's Angel! Time to POUNCE!). Now think of all the adults that carry this attitude with them. We do not want our kids to feel as if they are going through something unconquerable unlike anything ever experienced, as if it's only happened to them. Don't let your kids think failure is personal.

Finally, do not let your young ones (or yourself) fall into the trap of letting failure become pervasive. It can be like an infection. Splinters hurt (I know...I'm a big baby when I get one)! My wife is merciless when removing splinters from my finger (I think she delights in it...I'm almost certain I've seen a twinkle in her eye). Yet, if we leave the splinter, an infection occurs, causing far greater damage. Many people survive all types of physical trauma only to suffer worse at the hands of an infection. Failure is insidious in this same manner. Oh, you're having trouble with fractions? You must not be good at algebra then, and if you're bad at algebra, then college level math is going to be impossible. If you are having this kind of trouble, then you just must not be good at math period. Oh, you're not good at math? Maybe you weren't meant for school. If you're not meant for school, you should just call it quits now and drop out. Did that sound ludacris? I've sadly seen it as an educator far too many times. Even more personally, that was MY story. I was the first person in my family to get a college education....I could have easily NOT been.

Now you know. Don't let failure be perceived as permanent, personal, or pervasive. Model it yourselves, remind them always, and support them (not catch them) when (not if) they fall. I could quote many neuro-psychologists and experts in the field of neuroscience on this very topic, but instead, I'm going to close by citing the words of Vince Lombardi to hammer the point home.

It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.
Vince Lombardi 

*this was also my VERY FIRST guest blog post which appears on and also on ParentingGroove!!