We all want our kids to be successful. But if you are praising them only for their wins, and never their losses, you could be sabotaging their futures. Quite often, parents teach their children that mistakes are shameful, failure is bad and success alone is acceptable. But mistakes are necessary for learning. In fact, teaching your children to fear failure could actually hinder their success later on in life.
Mistakes are a natural and even desirable part of growing up because they teach us what not to do next time. They are simply a byproduct of taking risks, which is a good thing. Yet parents don’t always frame it that way.
So many children learn from a young age to be mistake-avoidant. This makes them more likely to stop trying after a few botched attempts at any given goal. And so their learned belief that failure and mistakes are bad, short circuits their potential to achieve.”
We call this response to mistakes the ‘Learning Trap’, and it’s just one of the seven traps that ensnare us. Our new book Trap Tales: Outsmarting the 7 Hidden Obstacles to Success teaches readers the art of Trapology, as described through the tale of Alex, a husband and father who has unwittingly fallen into the traps that so many people struggle with. In a compelling and relatable manner, it guides readers through a journey of wisdom and offers readers game-changing solutions that often cut against the cultural grain.
Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who are afraid of failure. All of society is stuck in the Learning Trap for three reasons:
-We don’t take accountability for our choices. It’s much easier to hide our mistakes and rewrite our biographies instead of owning up to them.
-We see our mistakes as character defects, rather than an essential part of the learning journey.
-We have a persona that we try to project to others. This persona becomes damaged and tainted when they see our flaws. We instinctively try to protect this image.
The rise of social media doesn’t help the situation any.
Social media promotes the lie that other people’s lives are amazing and ours is boring and uneventful. It supports the idea that you need a persona that’s better or different from what you truly are. And because everyone else looks perfect, you feel the need to hide or spin your flaws and mistakes from the view of others. Plenty of adults struggle with social media-induced inadequacy; kids struggle all the more.
The conventional approach to coping with failure that parents often teach their kids is this: If you aren’t good at it, try something else. If you can’t get results quickly, do something that yields better results before someone notices you are failing. This approach doesn’t work because it skips the learning process altogether and doesn’t account for mistakes.
If you want to raise successful kids, you must teach them that failure and mistakes are essential and instructive. Can you imagine if the parent of a toddler rewarded and praised them only if they succeeded in walking on the first try? Kids need to understand that their mistakes set the learning process into motion—and should be taught to persevere whenever they “fall.”
Here are a few key pieces of advice to help you raise confident and successful kids:
Never praise them for being “smart.” Research by psychologist Carol Dweck says that it’s vital to praise children for their efforts, not their intellect. Praising their intellect harms their motivation and their performance. Why? Because the moment they fall short, their confidence plummets and their motivation stalls. They falsely believe that success means they’re smart, and failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.
Rejoice and celebrate the effort, the journey and the process as much as the end result. Society is obsessed with the end result, but you can help your kids see that the journey is much more meaningful and important. Instead of emphasizing getting the A on the test, say something like: “I am so proud of you for studying so hard the past few nights. I know you are learning so much about the Civil War era. What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned so far?”
Urge them to keep going when they fail—even when they disappoint themselves or you. This is especially important as kids get older and become teenagers, because the opportunities to make mistakes increase, along with the consequences of mistakes.
After a disappointment or setback, encourage your child not to give up so easily. For example, if your teen wants to quit soccer after missing a crucial shot in the match, remind them that they have the opportunity to practice more and improve their performance next time. Remind them that they aren’t “failures”—they just need to keep trying.
It’s up to parents to be part of the societal paradigm shift. We can finally raise a generation of kids who aren’t afraid to fail by praising and supporting our kids for their efforts, and teaching them to enjoy challenges. Remind your kids that mistakes are a stepping stone on the road to learning. When they understand how to avoid the Learning Trap, they will wholeheartedly pursue their goals and dreams—and nothing will stop them then.