As parents, we want to protect our children from failure. What we don’t realize is that failure is an important part of life. If children do not experience failure, they may not learn to struggle through to success. Think about when you watched your child learn to walk. If every time she fell down you rescued her, she would have taken much longer to learn to walk on her own. On the other hand, there were times when she did need encouragement from you to keep trying.
The students I teach are dyslexic. This means they have a specific language learning difficulty that affects them in many ways. They often experience school failure before coming to our school. More than once I have heard my students say they feel their strength is that they know how to fail, sometimes over and over again, and not get too discouraged. To get to this point, however, takes support from parents, friends, and teachers.
When your child fails (such as getting a low grade on a test or project they thought was really good), you can help him to learn resilience—to bounce back and keep trying until he finally succeeds. Here are some suggestions for what you might do.
- Ask him to help you figure out exactly what went wrong. It is important to identify what caused the failure. Was it that he did not understand the task? Was it that he did not study? Or, was it that he did study, but it did not work? Was it a time management problem? Did he complete all the pieces of the project? Once you have identified a problem, you can take steps with him to solve it the next time he is faced with a similar task.
- Remind her that she is really good at doing other things, such as playing a musical instrument, participating in sports, painting, or entertaining children. Genuine praise goes a long way in uplifting the spirits of a discouraged child. Everyone is good at doing something, and children need to celebrate their gifts as they are struggling with their weaknesses.
- If you can think of a time when you failed at something and later made it through your struggle, discuss what you learned from the experience. Did you give up? Did you try again to see if you could do it better the next time? Did you ask for help from someone along the way?
- Give your child a big hug and assure him that you love him no matter what. Tell him that you believe that he will make it through tough times and that you will be there to help him. Adults who succeeded in school despite having a learning difference often attribute their success to one person. This person—whether a parent, teacher, coach, bus driver, or custodian—simply told them often that they believed in them. This helps to build resilience—the ability to bounce back after failure and to keep on trying.
If you have a child who struggles in school, resist the urge to do her work for her. This will not help her to be successful. It will teach her that she cannot do it without you (or someone else who will do it for her). It is OK to help, but be careful not to do the work. On the other hand, if you see that she is getting too discouraged and is unable to bounce back, it is time to see a professional to help your child find out why school is so difficult for her. The school psychologist is a good place to start. If one is not available, ask her teacher for advice for where to get the help she needs.