Freedom To Fail

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With the eye turned towards start ups, there is a lot of talk about young entrepreneurs and their success.
Ronnie Screwvala, Founder of UTV Group & a highly successful entrepreneur and philanthropist was recently quoted in an article, “I believe we do not need sops from the government nor funding from VCs to jump into the world of startups; you need to get over your fear of failure. Once we cross that red line, knowing we will fail — not once but 100 times and learn how to get up and go forward — that's when we will be a nation of many million startups.”
However, are we giving our children the freedom to fail or are we increasing their fear of failure in a bid to provide them the best possible chance of being successful in this big, bad, competitive world?

My youngest daughter was a rather risk averse individual during her childhood. When she was three years old, she was once playing on a slide in one of the community playgrounds. She slid a few times and just as my attention got diverted, she fell from the slide and hurt herself, fortunately not too badly. 

What was my response? I told her to be careful of swings and slides in future, as she might get hurt again. The message I put in her head was to avoid anything that could potentially harm her or cause a physical injury, resulting in her reluctance to take chances in exploring new physical games and activities.
So what does the fear of failure do? I conduct leadership workshops with children and I have observed that children tend to stick to “safe methods” and are less willing to try something new because it might not be “right”. They often cheat to complete a task and give-up after a few tries because failure pushes them down and they don’t want to rethink.

My experiences with these children made me re-think my response to my daughter when she fell from that slide. I could have taught her skills to help her maneuver on the slide and in the process help her understand that just because she fell once, does not mean that she would fall again.
As educators, we should not try to keep our children away from  potential ‘falls’ but rather teach them how to deal with challenges and provide  support if they do not succeed.

A simple way to start this could be through a small exercise of observing ourselves for a few days. Figure out what kind of messages do we give our children. Do we say:

  • “Don’t cross this busy road unless you are with me”; or do we say “Look left, right & again left and then cross the road when it is clear. I will watch you while you cross the first few times”?
  • “Only cycle within this compound where there is no traffic”; or do we say “When there is traffic, keep to the side of the road, make sure you are riding on the opposite side to oncoming traffic and look before you cross. If you fall, let your cycle go and save yourself”?
  • “You better score well in your Math exam, else you won’t get the subjects of your choice” or do we say “Do your best and even if you fail, there is a second chance. I am sure we can work together to fix what you don’t understand”?
  • “This is not going to work, I know it” or do we encourage them by saying “try out your solution, let’s see if it works. I have never tried this before but it might be a new way of approaching this problem”?
  • “I told you not to…” when a child fails, or do we say, “let’s think of a solution together”

It is imperative to understand, what learning and messages do we want our children to grow up with. What do we want them to understand during the formative years so those could become their lessons for life?
Why do we allow our toddlers who are learning to walk to fall as many times as they naturally do but forget to give our children the same freedom when they are growing up? It’s time we let our children truly understand what Thomas A. Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

- As published in The Hindu, Mumbai School Edition 12th April 2016

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