Failing Forward – Teaching Children to Embrace Failure

I remember very clearly the day my daughter Janice took her first step. It was an early step to embrace failure. She had hardly lifted her foot off the ground when she fell down.

The little girl got up and tried again; and fell down yet again.

The last time when she stood up, she was determined to take a long step, and yet again and she was on the floor! This time on her knees with her body flat on the floor.

Janice was failing forward

In her attempt to walk, Janice spent a lot more time on the floor than walking or even moving forward. But what I observed remains forever profound to this day. You see, I noticed something else. While Janice was falling down and getting up again, several times, she was in fact moving forward. Where she fell down last wasn’t the spot where she’d fallen first.

As parents, our children are students in school and failure is something that is present. It is important to have the conversation with them to advise “As a student, who may find that you keep failing, please remember that something else is happening. You will be learning, you will be improving and you will also be getting better. If you flunk your exams, remember that this is part of your way to success. It is one of a thousand steps that will contribute to your journey of a thousand miles.

Learning how to take advantage of challenges

It is important to help our children learn how to take advantage of the challenges they experience in school. They also need to know how to learn from failure. Most people give up when they fail. Many of us (and we are inherently the role models for our children) put our past in front of us and use it as a warning when we want to make our next attempt. And that is the exact same model our children use to go forward in life. Damning isn’t it?

Everybody can fail forward

The good news is that everybody fails. It is an inevitable human experience that will happen all through life. Failing is a painful. No one would deliberately set out to fail and go through the failure experience. The even better news is that everybody can fail forward if they are taught how.

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Most of us, fail to move forward, not because we are not able to or we don’t have the potential to, but because we are afraid to fail. Failure is the big mountain that stands between you and success. Additionally the same principle needs to be passed on to the next generation. Newton said, success is 99% failure. We spend quite a lot of time failing, so it is just as well that we learn about it and teach our children to embrace mistakes too.

So what should we and our children do, given that everybody fails? What should we and our children do given that failure is a painful experience? How should we all fail forward?
One – Learn from failure:

Thomas Edison tried and failed ten thousand times, before he could fix a light bulb. He said that every time he failed, he learn one more way on how not to make a bulb. Likewise, every failure that we experience both in social and academic life is a lesson on how not to behave or how to better prepare for exams.

Two – Believe in yourself:

It all starts with you. If you don’t believe in yourself nobody will. You should very well go ahead and believe that you can do it and as a result everybody will give you the support you need.

Three – Today matters:

You cannot sow a seed today and harvest tomorrow, it takes time to grow a seed into a fully productive plant. You need to water, protect and fertilize it allow it to grow and bear the fruits.

Failure today, plants the seeds for the harvest tomorrow. Failure is therefore not a disaster or punishment or a prediction of doom.

We need a paradigm shift that re-writes this script. For your children to learn and benefit from failure you need to learn from your own failures first. We must first practice and then teach them to believe in themselves, and to remember that whatever they do today, be it small or big, it matters.

Who is Toibias? Find out HERE

Oltesh Thobias is a father of three whose passion is to share knowledge and participate in capacity building. He visits schools to motivate students to improve their performance and realize their potential. He is a Toastmaster and a John Maxwell certified coach, speaker and trainer. He has over 25 years’ experience in industry and works at the African Development Bank. Contact:

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