TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Failure is a stepping stone to success

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

Children should learn early in life that there are consequences of failure, but also learn that failure can provide important lessons for life. This article is designed to provide suggestions of how to help your child turn failure into opportunity.

Reading biographies and watching biopics about the lives of famous inventors helps children realize failure is just a part of life. Inventors’ devices are concrete examples that children can easily understand. From there, you can move on to other professionals such as writers, scientists, artists and businessmen to provide other examples of people who tried and failed and tried again. Hershey, for example, tried three times before he hit on his successful chocolate business. Telling child age-appropriate stories of how you changed lemons into lemonade helps your child know that everyone has failures. Then, teach your child to examine his/her failures individually.

What criteria did your child not meet? In math, children can examine each problem missed on a test to find out why the problem was missed. The most common reasons are that the child copied the problem wrong, had not neatly written or lined it up, or had not used the correct operation (adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing) because the child had not learned the vocabulary words that indicated which operation to use. Children should track the reasons problems are missed on tests to find the most common errors. The next step is to learn to correct those errors. Example: Have them practice multiplication until they stop missing problems because they multiplied wrong.

What criteria are not met with respect to reading and spelling? The child should make a list of phonics rules or print them out from the computer. The child may initially need some help identifying what rules he or she is missing, but the data will eventually show what the major mistakes are. Correct those offending errors and grades will rise. The child will learn that a failure is a chance to improve learning.

The writing rules for grammar, punctuation and spelling are the criteria set for language arts. Grammar and punctuation rules are easily found on-line. Teachers often mark errors concerning misuse of rules when evaluating a child’s writing, but don’t always say which rule is broken. A common rule broken (even in 5th grade) is not starting a sentence with a capital letter. Using the teacher’s corrections of different mistakes, select the top three rules missed. Have the child write each of the three rules five to fifteen times. Expect your child to not break the rule next time.

Certain behaviors are important to learning and some children don’t meet criteria set by the school. Two common behaviors that lead to poor grades in school are not listening to the teacher and/or talking while the teacher is talking. Another offending behavior is not following directions. Failure of the child to put his/her name on assignments causes many teachers finally to take points off the child’s grade as a consequence. Poor organization of time and materials leads to failure. Examine your child’s behaviors with help from the teacher. Behaviors can be improved using a daily check sheet at school and setting a reward and consequence system at home. Working as a team, teach your child how to correct the offending behaviors.

A recent article in Psychology Today by Peter Gray, titled Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201509/declining-student-resilience-serious-problem-colleges indicates that there is a crisis of increasing numbers of college students lacking resilience. This lack of resilience is due to the fact that parents have rarely let their children deal with failure.

Plenty of teenagers and young adults currently demonstrate that they’re drifting through life because they never learned how to incorporate failure into their learning process. To prevent your child from becoming one of these drifting individuals, think twice before you fix a mistake for your child, but instead, show them how to detect and fix their own mistakes. If you simply correct your child’s failures, you are robbing your child of an important learning experience.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.