Teaching Kids That Failure Is Okay Will Make Them Fail Less

Illustration for article titled Teaching Kids That Failure Is Okay Will Make Them Fail Less

Today in research that is not that surprising but still kind of heartwarming: telling kids it's okay to make mistakes will help them do better in school.

In a study published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (via ScienceDaily), researchers told some sixth graders "that learning is difficult and failure is common, but practice will help, just like learning how to ride a bicycle." Control groups got no such pep talks. Then they put both groups through a variety of kid-tasks, like a memory test and a reading comprehension assignment. The kids who got the bicycle spiel did better on the tasks — and as a bonus, they felt more confident and less like fuckups. Says study author Frederique Autin,

We focused on a widespread cultural belief that equates academic success with a high level of competence and failure with intellectual inferiority. By being obsessed with success, students are afraid to fail, so they are reluctant to take difficult steps to master new material. Acknowledging that difficulty is a crucial part of learning could stop a vicious circle in which difficulty creates feelings of incompetence that in turn disrupts learning.


So basically, if you tell kids that not everything is easy, they won't freak out and quit the second that something seems hard. Which doesn't mean teachers have to hand out gold stars every second, but some acknowledgment that, say, redox equations are fucking difficult may go a long way.

Reducing Academic Pressure May Help Children Succeed [ScienceDaily]

Image via Christopher Sista/Shutterstock.com

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I totally agree. I was pretty humiliated whenever I failed at anything in childhood/high school. Teachers mocked my terrible art, and so I never did art again. Any time I asked my dad for help with homework (always math, never been that good at), he pretty much berated me about how I MUST know how to do work so easy. One time, when I didn't understand a lesson in algebra, I asked my teacher for extra help. I met with him after school and he basically refused to help me/said even the "dumb" kids understood it, so of course I did too. Then I flunked my test and he got mad at me. Cool.

So now I barely try anything because my fear of failure is pretty crippling. If somebody had once told me it was okay to mess up, I might have enjoyed trying new things. If it's okay to fail, there's not much of a risk in trying. I used to work at a summer camp, and I told kids things like that all the time. Often, they'd be reluctant to try a new art project or play a sport they weren't good at, but sometimes I could convince them that the might have fun if they just participated.