Why Kids Need to Feel Frustration and Failure

Although Positive Psychology emphasises the powerful
part that positive emotions play in generating well-being, it would be
incorrect to think that negative emotions do not also have a vital role to
play. All emotions are important, they give us information about our perception
of the world around us. We can then weigh up this information and act on it;
for example, our anger or fear may be telling us that something is wrong or
threatening, and that we should do something about it. Learning to identify
emotions and deal with them in healthy ways is a vital part in self-regulation,
research shows that kids who are able to do this fare better in a wide variety
of ways, inside and outside the classroom. Experiencing negative emotions is
part of the richness of life, and part of what makes us human.
However, research shows that the ratio of positive
to negative emotions may be an important factor in overall well-being. Although
there is no conclusive number for this positivity ratio at present, evidence
points to the possibility that a ratio of at least 3:1 is needed for well-being
and thriving.  This is interesting
information for teachers to be aware of, both for themselves and their pupils.
In practical terms, it might be useful to be aware if the number of negative
interactions is starting to build up with a particular child or in the class in
general. This is when some boosts of positive emotion could be helpful to get
things back on an even keel- easier said than done, of course!
Avoidance or suppression of negative emotions can be
damaging to well-being. This may be particularly true of the emotions of
failure and frustration. Some psychologists, notably Martin Seligman, suggest
that it is through experiencing failure, disappointment and frustration that
kids learn to become resilient. If children are over-protected, and too much
emphasis is put on ‘feeling-good’, they may not get the opportunities to
develop frustration -tolerance and manage their disappointments. If failure and
disappointment are not presented to children as normal parts of the learning
process, for example, they may learn to avoid these emotions  and become less likely to persevere in the
face of a challenge - giving up on the task may be easier for them to accept
than failing. Seligman suggests that not allowing kids the opportunities to
feel failure, disappointment and other normal negative emotions prevents them
from gaining mastery, and could actually be linked to the development of
So how can we build in safe ways for kids to
experience failure and frustration in our classrooms? Possibly the most
important message that we can give kids is that is that failure is part of the
learning process. We can do that by praising effort rather than result. Teach
kids that perseverance pays off, and that you value it as much as ability – in facts,
research shows that factors like self-control and perseverance are a greater
indicator of academic success than I.Q.
Prepare children for frustration by explaining that
a particular task may cause them to feel frustrated until they get the hang of
it, and that that’s completely normal. Of course we all know the value of
co-operative games, but kids need to experience winning and losing regularly
too, and how to put losses in perspective. I also find that it’s very helpful
to teach children about their character strengths, as they can then draw on
their own unique strengths to help them cope with the normal range of emotions which
is part of everyday life.
Seligman, M. E.
(2007). The optimistic child: A proven program to safeguard children
against depression and build lifelong resilience
.  Houghton Mifflin
Duckworth, A. L.,
& Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic
performance of adolescents. Psychological science, 16(12),
B. L. (2013). Updated thinking on positivity ratios.

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