There are always two sides to a coin. As it is with the topic of children experiencing failure. I’ve heard of parents who are all ready to send their children out to fail and I’ve known of parents who almost never allow their children to even stumble, much less fail. As I read about the implications of failure in children (some good, some bad), I started to reflect on my own experience with failure when I was a kid.

Math began as a neutral subject ever since Primary 1. I have never harboured any hatred towards this subject… not until the end of Secondary 1, where I had my first encounter with academic failure in Math. I cannot remember exactly how that failure came about, but it had debilitating effects that had hindered my learning process. Following the less-than-expected result of my Math exam, I continued, with whatever willpower I had, to continue trying. But test after test, the experience of failure became more like an acquaintance rather than a foe.

I remember beginning to accept the fact that I was never good enough or smart enough to even scrape through the papers with a pass. As a result, I began to hate Math and everything else that came with it (lessons, teacher, textbooks, worksheets…). Not surprisingly, my attitude manifested into bad classroom behaviour (I wouldn’t describe myself as disruptive though… I just talked to whoever was available). These behaviours and attitudes dragged on right into the beginning of Secondary 3, where I met the right one.

She was a strict lady with prim and proper dressing. The class didn’t really take a liking to her or the way she teaches and neither did I, initially. To cut the chase, this Math teacher changed my perception of myself, my abilities, basically, she changed my life.

She started giving me supplementary lessons, extra worksheets and took the extra effort to understand me. Her efforts didn’t show immediate results but she refused to take failure as an answer. I’ve always told her that I didn’t want to take Additional Mathematics anymore, seeing that I can barely manage Elementary Mathematics. After much encouragement from her, I began to have confidence that I can actually do Math (be it A Math or E Math). Suffice to say, her hardwork did pay off (very well, if I can say so myself) in the end.

So back to the issue on hand, my personal take (from experience) is that failure is an enabling tool for success. However, that failure has to be accompanied by positive encouragement and unconditional positive regard. Imagine if I had not met that teacher or if I had not received an ounce of encouragement from anyone after experiencing those failures… I can totally see myself drowning in my own perception of my incapabilities and eventually give up on attempting to try.

As the saying goes, parents are their children’s first teachers. And as a parent, you have a powerful influence on your child. A word of encouragement from you (despite their failures) could steer their learning journey to a whole new direction. A simple affirmation could spur them on to overcome their failures.

I guess failure in and of itself has nothing to offer. But accompanied by encouragement, it could mean a whole lot of difference.