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 they fell down you rescued them, they may have taken much longer to learn to walk on their own. On the other hand, there were times when they may have needed 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 them to learn resilience—to bounce back and keep trying until they finally succeed. Here are some suggestions for what you might do.
Ask them to help you figure out exactly what went wrong. It is important to identify what caused the failure. Was it that they did not understand the task? Was it that they did not study? Or, was it that they did study, but it did not work? Was it a time management problem? Did they complete all the pieces of the project? Once you have identified a problem, you can take steps with them to solve it the next time they are faced with a similar task.
Remind them that they are 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 them that you love them no matter what. Tell them that you believe that they will make it through tough times and that you will be there to help them. 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 their work for them. This will not help them to be successful. It will instead, teach them that they 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 they are getting too discouraged and are unable to bounce back, it is time to see a professional to help your child find out why school is so difficult for them. The school psychologist is a good place to start. If one is not available, ask their teacher for advice for where to get the help they need.