Children learn to respond to failure from adults
So much of our formal education focuses on making us stronger, quicker,
cleverer; we are encouraged to study harder, train faster, compete fiercely and
win bigger. Our mind and our body is hardwired to succeed and endure. Isn't that,
after all, the survival imperative; an ancient response hardwired into the most
primal and oldest part of our brain. But what happens if , once in a while we don’t
win? ‘Well played? ‘ or ‘do better next time’, ‘practice harder! ‘What will you of
when you grow up…’ , “You have to..” Sound familiar? These are all statements
we heard from our parents right after we walked out with our report cards or
walked back sweating and weary after losing an important match. Of course
many such statements have a positive effect too, they help us perform or even
give us our confidence back. And a lot of these become part of our inner
narrative, the voice in our heads that we play in our heads like an automatic reel
all our lives.
Research tells us that this is the time that the nerve cells in the adolescent brain
are going into overdrive, making new connections, which converge on several
nuclei. Although the human brain is a subject of much research, a lot that we
know about it is always being brought into question. This much is certain, the
responses that young people are conditioned into when they are say 13, will most
probably be the response they have when they are 30; they will give the same
responses to their children, so on and so forth. And the reel plays and replays, an
unconscious response that doesn't have a “stop” and “start” button.
When Seneca, the Roman Philosopher wrote: “some things torment us more than
they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they
ought not to torment us at all.”, he too spoke of how we handle the voice in our
head. The second, our brain perceives failures, these learned responses take
over. To the extent that we may be afraid to even try new things. The reel needs
to be reset and re-recorded.
So, how to lead our children to have functional responses to failure. First, we
need to realise that adolescents thrive on positive reinforcement, praise and
encouragement. Failures are a chance to learn, we already know this- now let’s
put it into practice. Each time a child underperforms, we need to know that she is
already experiencing many sensations; the old hardwiring that makes us
competitive also contains the Fight-Flight-Freeze responses, we need to let the
responses take their natural course. Accept and acknowledge that the brain,
heart and body are all sending signals- notice and be present to let her express
what feelings, thoughts, perhaps by asking open-ended questions occasionally
such as, ‘What do you feel’ or ‘tell me more’. All this, of course, whilst keeping our
judgements under wraps. Once they are able to express, without being
interrupted, judged or criticised- a healthy dialogue will emerge. Logic will kick in
afterwards; they may surprise you with their wisdom and insight too.
You will have created a new reel for your child that will enable her to respond to
failures positively and in a functional manner. And perhaps, in that moment, you
too will find a new reel for yourself.

– Triansha Tandan

Leave a Comment