Articles for parents

Turning mistakes into opportunities to learn how to succeed

Jul 2021
Turning mistakes into opportunities to learn how to succeed

The concept of recognising that our failures can be positive opportunities for growth is one that is hard to hear but is on reflection, very true. Nobody enjoys failing, but our efforts and endeavours are what make the final achievement all the greater. It can be hard for us as adults to accept our own failures, but as a parent consoling their child, how can we help them to accept and learn from their mistakes? It can be useful to hold on to the knowledge that behind every disappointment or 'learning cloud there is an inevitable silver lining.

As well as losing motivation to continue, traits such as 'perfectionism' and a growing fear of failure can be something that can eclipse the drive to succeed, so parents can play an active part in helping their children change their perceptions of failure and success.

Entrepreneurs often speak openly about their relationship with failure and how they manage to continue to motivate themselves to strive for success. What is it from their upbringing that meant they had this strength? In 2012, Stephen Twigg, a former Shadow Education Secretary, called for measures in education that would enable children to gain strength and motivation from their mistakes: "Failure can happen to anyone and pupils need to cope and learn from it. The most successful entrepreneurs often failed many times, but it didn't stop their drive."

Since then and in recent years, UK schools have made a distinct decision to help pupils become more resilient to mistakes and disappointment. They've recognised that for children to deal and exceed in 21st Century life, they'll need to be resourceful, determined and resilient, whereas it was previously recognised that some teenagers were thought to be leaving school without the emotional stamina and preparation necessary to deal with the complexities of the modern world. 

Parents of children who may not deal well with life's disappointments, both large and small, could consider the following techniques to help their children learn from their mistakes.

Demonstrate how initial mistakes have led to later successes
Use examples of the past failures made by scientists, politicians and other leading figures and how their continued efforts and determination led to eventual success. Thomas Edison made multiple failed attempts before he perfected the invention of the light bulb and many sports stars will speak of their multiple defeats before their eventual chance of glory. 

Use children's old work books with them and show them how far they have come since they started school. Highlight the fact that they had to make mistakes in reading, writing and mathematics that they later went on to overcome.

Parents can also talk about mistakes they have made in their own lives, such as a career choice, and go through the steps they took to remedy the situation. For example, they may have re-trained and landed themselves a role that was much more enjoyable than their initial career path.

Help children get perspective on their mistakes
Make light of your children's mistakes and spur them on by getting them to take a little time to reflect on what they thought went wrong. Guide them in drawing a positive conclusion by using questions such as the following:

  • What did you do correctly in this situation?
  • What could you improve on?
  • What will you try and do next time?
  • What have you learnt?
Reward children for their efforts

Praise your children when they make attempts at completing activities, even if they don't succeed. Offer a few words of encouragement and you could soon see children thriving, even when they get answers or activities wrong.

Dr. Peter Goldenthal, a widely recognised expert in sibling relationships and child development, suggests the following ways to help your children respond positively to adversity:

  • Put the situation into perspective. Show your children that a setback is not the end of the world.
  • Don't rush to the rescue. Let your children try to solve the problem themselves.
  • Play up the positive. Point out to your children all the good things that have happened besides the obstacle.
  • Suggest step-by-step success. Help your children to set goals by using the setback as motivation 

At Kumon, through daily practice and small-step learning, students get to try out topics and concepts they may have not fully explored at school. In the supportive environment of the Kumon centre and under their Instructor's guidance they are encouraged to try out work that is challenging to them even if they get it wrong. As well as academic confidence and progress, Kumon is about learning self-motivation and resilience. With praise and encouragement to try again, all our students can achieve things they may have previously thought were beyond them.