If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field.

Jessica Lahey, a teacher, writer and New York Times bestselling author explained that even when these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s wellbeing, they aren’t giving their children a chance to experience failure or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

She believes that “overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education.”

The Lesson in Failing

In another interview on this topic, Elizabeth Harstad, developmental behavioural paediatrician, Boston Children’s Hospital, said “kids who experience failure can learn that it’s OK to take risks. They can also learn how to tolerate frustration. These are traits that can serve them well as adults. When kids experience something like a poor grade, there’s a way to move forward and improve the next time.”

Associate Professor Manu Kapur, the former head of the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, together with Jaron Pow, previously Head of Department (Mathematics) in Millennia Institute and Jurongville Secondary School, and a team of four other teachers, introduced the concept of “productive failure” productive failure which urges students to accept that making mistakes is inevitable.

During lessons in the classroom, students are invited to propose their own solutions to the problems or questions given. Manu Kapur described this productive failure concept as “a teaching method which leads to short term ‘failure’, but long-term success”.

Experts believe that people who persist in the face of failure and develop innovative solutions and emotional-coping strategies become more resilient over time. On the contrary, people who avoid failure tend to be psychologically fragile and try to avoid the experience (of failing) at all costs which could lead to a range of unhelpful behaviours such as cheating.

In her book, Jessica candidly shared that her own experience and mistakes as a parent who intuitively feels the urge to “bulldoze every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way” deprives children of the opportunity to learn how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient – traits that will teach them to progress and achieve success.

In rushing to “save” our children and to “help” them out, parents feel good about themselves because of their ability to provide. By over extending children’s dependence, Jessica suggests that we have fostered a generation of narcissistic, self-indulgent children unwilling to take risks or cope with consequences.

How can we help children to learn from failures?

1. Don’t protect children
As a first step, parents need to step back and allow their children to fail and deal with the consequences.

For example, when they miss the bus, forget assignments or fail a test, don’t be quick to save them. These situations are minor setbacks that they should be able to cope on their own.

2. Help them to manage negative feelings
With failure, children will experience negative feelings such as anger, embarrassment, and disappointment. Help children to understand their feelings and manage such feelings. Let them know that such feelings are natural.

You can show them your support and share your own experiences of failing.Then help them to move on from their setbacks by encouraging them to come up with solutions.

3. Talk them through the experience
When Jaron first applied ‘productive failure’ with his students, he had to deal with a fair bit of scepticism. Naturally, there is a certain degree of discomfort, he shared, as nobody likes to make mistakes.

“The aversion and discomfort never last beyond a few months. Over time, many will have greater mastery over concepts and will also find themselves becoming better problem solvers.”

When your child next comes to a parent with a problem, instead of giving them the answers right away, you can start by asking, “What have you tried?” Jaron shared.

Posing them such questions helps them to think about their experiences and come up with creative solutions.

Over time, your children will learn to persist in moving forward and progress on their own. They will be able to tackle problems and challenges they face in life. When they achieve success after rounds of failure, you will also get to share their joy and enjoy proud moments of being their parent.