The Ultrapreneur

Jul 3, 2020

8 min read

How to help your child or student FAIL so they can SUCCEED!

Now, before we get into this topic, think about this question: can the fear of failure be transmitted from parent to child? Read on to the very end of the piece to get the answer!

In this piece I’m going to explore why failure is important in the development of your child or student. Did you know that the word ‘failure’ is actually based on a Latin word meaning ‘’to deceive’’ and to deceive means to deliberately hide the truth about something?

It almost suggests that failing is something that is deliberate or can be controlled as opposed to failure being something that simply happened to us. A few months ago, I ran a workshop for teachers about the ways in which entrepreneurs approach starting a business. The idea that startups aren’t actually a company but are individuals experimenting with an idea, and until it’s proven, it’s not really a company. You see, if you approach almost anything like an experiment, then you take the pressure out of it being a success.

It means that you approach it more freely and more honestly without being attached to the outcome. Take Ultra; for example; I didn’t know what I was doing when I first set up the company as the industry was new to me. I knew that I was going to make mistakes along the way. So when the failures did come, I almost expected them. I can almost be more objective about what happened, take the learning and apply it to the next experience. So what does this have to do with children and entrepreneurship? Well, first of all, kids tend to start a business, create a product or service because it’s something that they want to do.

In fact, I recently asked about a hundred twelve-year-olds if they have ever sold anything to make a profit, and almost 95% of them put their hand up. And then when I asked whether or not they’ve done it more than once, the number remained at about 90%. Now because they want to do it, it means that they’re more likely to stick with it even when things inevitably go wrong. And this, for parents and teachers is the opportunity for us to help children learn and grow.

Because when that inevitable failure happens, we can use that moment to talk to them about how they’re feeling and what they’ve learned. You see, they’re more likely to be engaged in the conversation because it’s based on something they already want to do. And are therefore motivated to find a solution for it. Some of you know that my 9-year-old and I have started a YouTube show for kids, which helps young entrepreneurs think about opportunities and challenges and everything from art to design, to fashion, and much more. Literally, just two hours ago, we failed to film another episode of the show, because we had no end of technical challenges.

My son and his older sister started annoying each other, and it went downhill from there. And so, before recording this podcast, I spoke to my son about what we can learn from that failed experience, so that we can have a better experience next time. Now, two of the most effective ways I found to present the topic of failure to kids is using the acronym’s first attempt in learning, which I think speaks for itself. And secondly failing fast, which is the new startup mantra.

The first attempt in learning really suggests that to learn is to fail, and if you’re not failing, you’re not learning, so fail more but fail fast. You see, it’s better to fail with £100 than it is £1,000 or in a month than in a year. That’s what I did in my younger years; you can quickly qualify experiences in and out of your life. Because someone can tell you that being a young author, YouTuber, food entrepreneur, designer is a great idea.

But until you try it for yourself, you’ll never really know. And instead of approaching those ideas as a big deal because you might fail, instead of writing a book, just start writing a short blog. Instead of becoming the next big thing on YouTube, record one video. Instead, of thinking about that app you want to build and it being a huge success, maybe just create a prototype or something like Marvel app and get some feedback. And as always, if your child really loves what they’re doing, it will make the cycle of failing and learning a much easier process!

Now, this happens unconsciously and it sends a message to that child that failure was unacceptable. And if left unaddressed, this, of course, makes the child more likely develop a fear of failure of their own.

So talk it out in a calm, measured way so that you don’t need jerk react and create this fear. One tip that I live by is to let it breathe.

If I’m about to react to a failed situation, I usually sleep on it or give it at least 24 hours before I say anything. That way, my response can be measured and not emotionally charged. Now, if you’ve enjoyed this article, please share it with a parent or a teacher who needs to hear this message!

I remember when my daughter first started to make slime a number of years ago. For any of you who know about making slime and putty and things like that, there’s a whole bunch of ingredients which go into the science behind the amounts and how long you leave it for, the type of consistency you want, and so on. And I remember my daughter literally experimented for about a year before she mastered the consistency in the slime that she wanted to put out to market. And she was slightly ahead of the game; this was just before kids were making slime of their own.

She got out the gate and was able to create her own Kamare’s crazy slime business. It was because she was so in love with slime as a product and with the idea that she could create her own slime. Spending that year failing over and over and over again and wasting a whole bunch of ingredients that we paid for was the thing that kept her going. But the outcome at the end was that she had a product that she was in love with and she could talk about it authentically.

She could talk about the process of creating the slime. She could talk about all of the different ingredients and chemicals that went into creating that product and it made for a really good sell. Who doesn’t want to buy from somebody who really knows their stuff, and is really passionate about it too?

My son, who is really into art, has failed multiple times, by simple things like spilling his colours all over his art book. By buying the wrong type of canvas, by ordering the wrong types of material; be they brushes, be they paint, be they watercolours, and by sometimes setting unrealistic expectations.

At the moment, he wants to do 100 days of art and even though I think he’s capable of doing that, at some point, he may not. But because he set that up in his head as an expectation, if it doesn’t play out, I’m waiting for the opportunity where I can say to him. Actually, it doesn’t matter that you’ve not done 100 days consistently, maybe you can do 100 days over the course of a year, and that’s still okay. I often talk about parents and teachers, creating an enabling environment for their child’s success, and what that means is creating a safe space for them to fail.

A safe space where they can fail without judgment, where they can fail without spending lots of money and taking up lots of time. And during the process of failing, having somebody be a mentor, a teacher, or a parent who’s on that journey with them. So that when that point of failure does happen, there was someone there to help them unpack that experience.

Now I know that parents and teachers can get frustrated with their children because it might appear that they will start one thing, fail, start another, fail, and keep going in that cycle.

But I’m here to tell you that that’s okay because in the grown-up world, that’s what serial entrepreneurs do. It goes back to the idea that you might think that becoming a tech entrepreneur, an author, a food entrepreneur, and so on may be the thing for you. But until you’ve actually done it, you won’t know if it really is.

Once you’ve got to that point, again it’s better to approach it like an experiment, so that when you get to the point where you really understand what becoming an author is about and the process involved, that you can then decide whether or not it’s for you, as opposed to being told it’s for you without emotionally onboarding the process that is required to become a child author for example.

Now I’m perfectly aware that for some professions and for some entrepreneurs you may be in specific fields, where you need to succeed. For example the medical field (doctors, dentists etc), legal profession or for those who are airline pilots or psychologists or if you’re learning to drive.

In these instances, you do need to pass and not fail. However, in the process of achieving that pass, it is okay to fail along the way! Because the net effect of what you learn from those failures along the way will provide ultimately a better outcome.

I’m also aware that the elephant in the room in this conversation is the fact that failing in school is bad and educators too are fully aware that teaching children to pass an exam isn’t the only skill set that they need to be successful in life. More and more schools are on board with the fact that grades do not entirely define that child, and I, for one, hope that in the future, we can use other ways to assess a child’s capability outside of a strict academic framework. In and amongst all of this, it is preparing children with the ability to know how to fail. If any of you have done an extreme sport or something like judo, you know that you are taught how to fail.

When you hit the mat in judo, you break your fall. You are effectively taught how to hit the ground because hitting the ground is inevitable. And if you break your fall, it means that you have controlled the impact of your body against the ground. In the same way, lots of these approaches will teach children how to fail, because we know that failure is an inevitable part of life. And that skill isn’t just essentially in entrepreneurship, but I think many of us will agree that it is essential in life!

Thanks for reading this far and as promised, the answer to the question: can the fear of failure be transmitted from parent to child? Is… yes! Studies have shown that parents who have a fear of failure can unknowingly transmit it to their children by overreacting or withdrawing emotionally when that child fails.

This article was brought to you by Ask Ultra, the Entrepreneurship tuition app for kids. Available on both app stores, try it for free here!