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5 Ways to Help Kids Learn Through Failure, According to Teachers

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No mom or dad wants to watch their kids struggle but teaching children how to effectively face challenges is crucial for today’s parents. Allowing kids to fail from time to time is essential for developing resilience and confidence, says Allison Schultz, a middle school math teacher at Episcopal Academy. “When we step in to do things for our kids, we could be sending the message that we don’t believe they are capable of doing things on their own.”

It’s easy to agree in theory, but reality can often push parents into helicopter — or lawnmower or snowplow — mode. Messy learning can take time and patience, like letting your little one grapple with a gallon milk jug versus just pouring a glass for him. Then there’s an inherent instinct to protect children from disappointment. But letting kids experience and learn from mistakes helps them develop the independence and grit they’ll need as adults. Here are five tips on how to help kids fail — in a productive way:

Don’t bail them out.

You get a call from school: Your child has left her homework at home (again). Instead of rushing to the classroom, papers in hand, let your child deal with the consequences, Schultz advises. Encourage them to accept responsibility for the problem and to brainstorm a solution to avoid making the same mistake again — like next time putting schoolwork in their backpack the night before school.

Focus on problem-solving, not solutions.

Instead of asking students for a final answer, Episcopal Academy elementary school math teacher Lisa Herbster presses students to share how they approached each problem and the steps they took to get their final answer. It’s a technique that adults can also use at home. “For example, if a child is having trouble buttoning their jacket or tying their shoe, ask them to think about another way they could try,” she advises.

Make room for mistakes.

Part of avoiding anxiety-ridden perfectionism is normalizing failure. Research indicates that our brain actually grows each time we make a mistake. Acknowledging and analyzing why something went wrong will help children learn, so parents should welcome situations where a child could make a mistake. “We say all that time that FAIL actually stands for ‘First Attempt In Learning,’” shares Schultz.

Encourage independence.

Children should be empowered to make choices from a young age. Herbster encourages parents to identify and delegate age-appropriate decisions to their children. “Maybe it’s allowing a child to pick out what they want to wear each day or letting them choose what your family will have for dinner one night each week,” she suggests. In addition to cultivating independence, this practice will help children learn about the consequences of their decisions.

Model resilience.

Children learn more from how we act than what we say. Both Schultz and Herbster agree that it is crucial for parents to model resilience. They suggest making a point to call out your own mistakes and what you think you should do differently next time. This will help demonstrate self-reflection and growth to children.

Teachers at Episcopal Academy strive to design curricula and experiences that develop and nurture their students’ confidence and resilience. Schedule a visit today to learn more.