How to help kids cope with failure
I’ve written a lot of posts on how to handle failure. There are several of reasons for this. As a kid, I don’t know that anyone ever helped me understand the role that failure plays in growing, improving and becoming your best self. I just figured out on my own that failure was something to be avoided at all costs and that misguided perception would rule my life until well into recent years.
As a school counselor for 20 years, I also spent a lot of time consoling kids who felt devastated when life didn’t go as they planned. They failed a test. Their work didn’t win the prize. They weren’t chosen for the team or club. I want to help kids learn to handle failure because it so often involves learning to handle losing, making mistakes and criticism. Each one of these experiences can either provide needed helpful information for our future or it can crush our spirit. It is all in how we perceive the information as well as how it is delivered.
Most of the time when someone feels crushed by failure, the problem is the message or the story that the individual is telling themselves about the situation. This is obviously true for adults as well as kids so the steps that I’m going to suggest below might be something that you will find helpful in your own life as well as kids that you teach, parent or counsel. Here’s the secret sauce for turning failure into research and development.
- Become aware of the message or story that you are telling yourself or repeating in your brain. Here are some examples that I’ve heard:
- How could I be so stupid?
- I’m a loser and now everyone will know
- What’s the point of trying? I can’t do anything right.
- Change the message to change the feeling:
- It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how I learn.
- I’m not a loser, I’m a learner. Everyone makes mistakes and those who don’t understand don’t need to be in my circle of friends.
- I haven’t learned the best way to succeed yet. There are lessons to be learned from this experience.
- Ask the question:
- What have I learned from this experience?
- How can I apply what I have learned?
- Where is the opportunity in this experience?
- Set a new goal to apply what you have learned
- Create a new goal with a timeline- I will study differently for the next test by reviewing the material nightly.
- Create an opportunity for constructive feedback: I will ask my teacher for suggestions for the best way to learn the material.
- Evaluate how the action steps are working: I will take a practice test before the final exam.
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser. All his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach. How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future. Will he give up trying new things? Will he have the confidence to try again? Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others?