Teaching Failure

In 4-H we strive to prepare youth for their future which can often encompass the experience of failure.

Failure is a bad thing, right?  But as 4-H leaders and parents, what if we were to refer to failure as a good thing?  It may be difficult to wrap your mind around the idea of failure being good, or positive, especially when it’s typically tied to so many negative emotions.  However, in 4-H we strive to prepare youth for their future which can often encompass the experience of failure.

Michigan State University Extension experts say that as 4-H leaders or parents, our task is to regularly support the youth we work with.  As youth experience failure it is critically important that they understand how their current experience will better prepare them for other experiences in the future, even recognize that they are gaining skills through failure.

The American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General has published an article, Reducing Academic Pressure May Help Children Succeed. A study conducted by Frederique Autin, PhD with the University of Poitiers in France, found that, “by being obsessed with success, students are afraid to fail, so they are reluctant to take difficult steps to master new material. Acknowledging that difficulty is a crucial part of learning could stop a vicious circle in which difficulty creates feelings of incompetence that in turn disrupts learning.”

To create opportunities for youth to feel confident and competent through failure, there are everyday steps that we, as parents and 4-H leaders, can take to help the youth we work with.  In an article from Parent’s Magazine, Failure Is an Option, the following points are suggested to help teach youth to thrive through failure:

  • Be your child’s guide, not their savior
    Prepare your child to manage setbacks which includes asking them for possible solutions to problems.
  • Pare back the praise
    Too many compliments can cause more harm than good because they become dependent on others for validation.
  • Encourage them to try new things
    Introduce your child to a variety of new experiences because children naturally gravitate toward hobbies and interests in which they excel.
  • Teach them to delay gratification
    Teaching your child to be patient helps them to develop self-control, a skill they will rely on throughout life.
  • Be a good role model
    Don’t forget to handle your own disappointments with grace since you are demonstrating your own coping skills.
  • Manage expectations
    Things do not always go as we expect and sometimes we can’t control when plans change, but we can reduce a child’s distress when plans do change by keeping their anticipation within reason.  Rather than talking about exciting plans as guarantees, treat them as mere possibilities.

Parents are also reminded that although you can’t shield your child all of the time, there are instances when you should provide them with help. Those times include when:

  • Failing will cause tremendous humiliation
  • The child may be in danger
  • The child is being bullied

In the Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program and the Children and Youth Institute the Targeting Life Skills Model is an example of where parents and youth can learn more about the life skills youth can gain.

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