I think it is pretty fair to say that when people fail they feel bad. Put plain and simply failure doesn’t feel good. Starting today I would like to propose a reconceptualization of failure!
First, failure is inevitable if you are going to stretch yourself, try new things, learn more, it is to be expected you won’t do everything well the first time around, you might fail. When you started to walk you probably fell down a bunch of times, it didn’t stop you from learning to walk, you had a growth mindset, you kept going and learned to walk. Can you imagine if you hadn’t had a growth mindset, you’d still be crawling around. What I’m getting at is that failure is inherent in learning anything new.
Starting today I’m encouraging parents to applaud their child’s EFFORTFUL failure. Effortful is in capital letters because I’m not suggesting children just go around failing, what I am suggesting is if your child tried something new, difficult, or challenging and failed, he/she should be celebrated. Actually if your child tried anything really hard that was new or not and failed, I’m suggesting that you applaud them. And then of course ask, “What did you learn?,” “Going forward what will you do differently?” Remember failure is information. It’s information about what we can do differently and better next time, it’s the only way to learn.
If we feel bad when our children fail and then make our children feel bad when they fail, we are sending the message that either 1) they should never try anything new or out of their comfort zone, they should only stick to doing things in their comfort zone and easy or 2) they are expected to be perfect no matter what they do, they are put in a box labeled talented and shouldn’t do anything to dispel that.
A growth mindset means that you believe you can grow your intelligence, your abilities, or skills. It means you will make mistakes and know you will learn from those mistakes. So next time your child fails congratulate him/her and without judgment talk about the failure.
During this difficult time, with so many people offering advice about what to do and not to do with the kids and how to do it, plus all the other demands the idea of being self-compassionate seems appropriate. There is no template for how to deal with what is happening now, I’d venture to assert most people are just trying to do the best they can.
According to Kristin Neff, the world’s leading expert on self-compassion, on the best of days we tend not to be very nice to ourselves. Actually, she says, we tend to be nicer to people we don’t like, than we are to ourselves. This is worrisome! Now more than ever it’s time to try to do things differently. It’s time to cut ourselves some slack, well actually, more than cut ourselves some slack, it’s time to be very, very kind to ourselves.
Self-compassion involves responding to ourselves when we have a difficult time, fail, or notice something we don’t like about ourself in the same supportive and understanding way we would to a friend. Easy, right! Not really, when we don’t live up to our own standards, when we feel we have fallen short, we tend to beat ourselves up. This is probably not the best time to be beating ourselves up. Lately, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how important it is to be kind to others, I believe it’s just as important to be kind to yourselves!
So how do we do this? Well, it’s easier said than done, so be kind to yourselves in your efforts to be kinder to yourselves. There are many resources out there to teach yourself self-compassion. The Greater Good Science Center has a lot of information on how to build self-compassion for parents. The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion also has a lot of resources and information on how to learn self-compassion.