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Why it’s okay for your children to fall flat on their face

Brace yourself for oodles of the f-word. Dirty, rotten, stinking FAILURE.

It’s a funny thing, failure. For a start, it’s not actually funny – when it happens to ourselves, that is. Given a choice, we prefer success to failure, any day of the week.

So who the heck are the succeeders? The people who get up, dust themselves off and try again; the mover and shakers; the dogs of determination.

You are those people! Remember learning to walk? No? Then let us remind you. First you became really ace at shuffling on your bottom. You could really travel. Your mum would put you in the lounge and by the time she’d made a cup of tea you were away, down the street, two-cheek shuffling to Sainsbury’s.

But you looked around at the adults and they didn’t shuffle, they walked on their feet. So you thought you’d have a go. They can do it, so it can’t be that difficult. You grabbed the settee and hauled yourself up. Steady now. And you were off. Except you weren’t. Good job your botty was padded.

But you didn’t sit there feeling sorry for yourself. You didn’t think, ‘This walking malarkey, it’s not really my thing. I’m gonna shuffle on my botty till I’m 24.’

Nope. You were determined. You wanted it badly. You failed 1000 times and then, one day, it happened. It wasn’t pretty but you managed to stagger the whole length of the lounge with legs as stiff as a zombie, and, best of all, everyone applauded.

Our ability to genuinely succeed is all about maintaining a sustained considered effort; cultivating the drive, determination, enthusiasm and passion to do better. To try, try, try and try again whilst simultaneously incorporating the lessons we’ve learnt in repeatedly failing.

So here are 2 parenting rules so that when your child falls flat on their face, they fall with style:

Rule #1: The power of ‘yet’ Words are so powerful. It’s okay to acknowledge falling-short and smile at finishing last. Discuss how it feels and what it would take to do better next time, and the time after that and the time after that.

There is, quite simply, no gain without a little pain. It’s useful to remember that whenever your child feels like they’ve failed – remember the word ‘yet.’ Stay positive. Stay confident. Tell your child they can’t do it… ‘yet.’

Rule #2: Praise for effort rather than talent Your kids already know about ‘growth mindset’, so here’s your chance to catch up. Listen back to yourself and consider whether you praise your children for talent or effort. It might be more important that you think!

To cultivate a growth mind-set, your children need to believe that the route to success is through determination and hard work. Why? Because research shows that growth mindset kids keep going when the going gets tough. They improve the quality of their strategies. Crucially, growth mindset children often don’t focus on reasons for their failures because they don’t even consider themselves to be failing. They just haven’t figured out how to complete the tasks. Yet. (see how ‘yet’ features again!)

The learning? You should be rewarding your children for effort, not talent. Our advice is that, if your child accomplishes something, don’t say, ‘Well done, you are such a little genius!’ but rather, ‘Awesome, you put the effort in and got the reward.’

Here’s a concrete example. If your daughter scores a goal at football, don’t high-five her and say, ‘Holy cow, total genius girl. You were born to play football.’ You’d be better off saying, ‘Amazing goal. That’s what practice and hard work gets you!’ and ruffle her hair in a chummy fashion.

Or when your son wins an award for art: ‘Crikey, young man, you are destined to be the next Picasso.’ Nope. ‘That’s what you get for all those hours of hard work.’ Yep.

In summary – the whole process of succeeding requires lots and lots of the f-word. And our kids don’t like it: they want approval, love, accolades and cash incentives. But hang on a minute: no they don’t. They really want to grow, they really want to discover who the heck they are, they really want to see just what their limits are. They want to start creating their personal best. If they want to shine, they will have to accept abject failure. Repeatedly. With tears at times. With jeers at others.

Failure yes. But stay in the game.

The truth is simple; if we’re unwilling to fail, we’re unwilling to succeed.

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