Hurrah! A new year, a new beginning, a new hope! Have you made resolutions to do better and to be better this year? Did you resolve to break a bad habit and start a couple of good ones? Did you tell yourself you’ll be different this time, but by February (if that long,) are you back into your old patterns and grossly disappointed in yourself? So failure is a bad thing, right? Wrong! Look at the steps you took that led to failure, then look again and see that the same steps will show you what it takes to succeed. By examining what was wrong, you will know what to do right the next time. What’s more, if we do not examine our mistakes and learn from them, we are bound to repeat them over and over again!
So give yourself and your children a break and shift the perception of failure from a bad thing to a steppingstone to success. No more embarrassment or disappointment in oneself, no longer punishable when children fail. Here are seven positive perceptions of failure I found on the Prairie Eco-Thrifter website:
1. Failure is an event, not a person.
Thomas Edison had hundreds of failures before he succeeded in developing the electric light.
2. Failure means you have courage.
If he gave up after the first failure, would we all still be in the dark?
3. Failure makes you stronger.
Each failure taught him he could handle it.
4. Failure helps you learn.
Each failure showed him what to do right the next time.
5. Failure creates new opportunities.
Edison held the world record of holding 1,093 patents
6. Failure provides answers.
Edison asked the questions.
7. Failure gives you the best chance for success.
Failing to try is the real failure.
A positive approach automatically changes the way you will react to your failures. It will alter your picture of yourself from "failure" to "striving to succeed." You will no longer feel disappointed in yourself, or guilty or ashamed over a failure.
If you have reacted to your children’s failures with disappointment or anger in the past, there’s a better way to respond. Let’s say your child has just repeated an unacceptable behavior he promised never to repeat, and instead of scolding or criticizing him, you bring to mind a past failure of your own and relive how bad you felt about yourself. This "fellowship of feeling,"* calms the atmosphere. In the absence of recriminations, your child feels a deep sense of relief. In this relaxed setting, you have given him the gift of gifts – the gift of compassion where there is no impulse to criticize, scold, punish, or hit him.
Whether child or adult, compassion is the key to change. It begins with having compassion for oneself – not pity – but a kindliness toward yourself that allows you to forgive yourself.
Forgiving yourself is a crucial part of dealing with failure and eliminates feeling disappointment or shame or guilt. Children too, need to know that it is all right to forgive oneself. (No doubt, the reason many of us find it difficult to forgive ourselves is that no one ever told us we could or should.) Bolstered by your acceptance and appreciation of them for who they are – little human beings struggling to find out what it means to be a human being – they will learn to accept and appreciate themselves, imperfections and all.
Your children need your faith in their ability to succeed, to believe in them, and to inspire them to reach beyond their grasp. You can show them how to find the clues to success in their failures, but instead of giving them your answers, encourage them to find their own answers. Imagine how confident they will feel when they come up with their own answers.
"Nothing said to us,
nothing we can learn from others,
reaches us so deep
as that which we find in ourselves."
So when your child breaks a promise, or gets a low grade on a test, or repeats an unacceptable behavior, seek answers, not punishment. They feel bad enough when they don’t live up to their parents’ expectations of them, so criticizing or punishing them just adds damaging guilt or shame. Reassure them that failure does not define them, their effort does, their courage to keep trying does, their confidence in themselves does, their inner strength does, their determination does, and their ability to handle failure does.
And should you fail, their compassion for you does.
*"a fellowship of feeling" from Arthur Jersild’s book, "When Teachers Face Themselves"