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Growing and learning from failure

Failure is often something that is frowned upon. But the truth is: we all fail at some things some of the time – in fact, it is often the best way to learn! It’s important, therefore, to teach children not to fear failing. Fear of failure can be crippling when it leads to our avoiding challenging tasks and takes away our motivation and our desire to achieve. 

You can support your child by teaching them about the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, and helping them to deal with setbacks.

Growth mindset versus fixed mindset

When talking about failure with your child, it’s helpful to talk about the two kinds of mindsets that people can have: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

Growth mindset

This is where a person’s self-esteem is centred on the belief of abilities being developed through dedication and hard work. This mindset typically understands success is about 35% due to ability, and 65% to effort. A growth mindset is about learning how to fail well, and knowing learning from failure is what leads to eventual success. This can be summed up in the sentence: ‘I can’t do that … YET.’

So, what are the signs your child has a growth mindset? 

Here are a few:

  • They’re keen to learn from people around them
  • They understand getting what they want, or learning new skills, requires putting in effort
  • They’re aware of their weaknesses, but are focused on improving them
  • They welcome challenges and are open to new things.

Fixed mindset

A fixed mindset is when people believe traits such as ability or talent are fixed, set at birth and not able to be changed. They let failure or success define who they are. It could be said they believe that success is about 65% due to ability and only about 35% to effort.

Signs your child has a fixed mindset include:

  • They avoid challenges when they think they might make a mistake
  • They don't deal well with setbacks
  • They try to hide their mistakes
  • They’re very negative about themselves, often saying things like, ‘I can’t do it.’

As you can see, a growth mindset has far more positives. So, showing your child how to learn through failure, taking it well and seeing the positive, basically means helping them to adopt a growth mindset. To help them do this, you should praise their effort and not just the final achievement.

How you can help your child develop a growth mindset

Some top tips for supporting a growth mindset in your child:

  • Talk about the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. Explain what they both are, and stress the importance of understanding how failing is an essential part of learning.
  • Talk about the brain. Explain how our brains are something that can be changed. The more we practise and work at a skill or ability, the stronger the connections in our brain associated with the skill become, and, over time, it becomes easier and more natural for our brain to perform these skills. It’s like using a muscle: great athletes weren’t just born being able to perform the way they do; it took hours and hours of practice and effort.
  • Praise effort, struggle and persistence. Congratulate your child on choosing difficult tasks; mention you are impressed and proud when they put time into learning. Compliment them on all improvements.
  • Encourage your child to practise skills. Praise them for embracing new ones, and support them in continuing to work at them.
  • Celebrate successes. Particularly small ones, which are often forgotten (such as solving a difficult problem, or even just trying to do something).
  • As with all things, having a growth mindset is something we should endeavour to practise ourselves. Your child will understand how to learn from failure by watching your attitudes and behaviours when doing the same.

ReachOut is Australia's leading online health website for young people and their parents. Working with registered counsellors, psychologists and mental health professionals ReachOut provides online self-help tools that are used by over 1.5 million Australians each year. A valuable resource for many parents, teens and young adults.

If your child, or anyone you know is having issues with self-esteem, confidence or mental or physical health, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

This content includes the views and opinions of a third-party, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Suncorp. Information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, personal situation or needs.

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