teaching kids how to fail

All parents want to see their kids succeed, but it’s just as important to teach your children how to fail. Failing can be reframed as trying, practicing, and putting in effort — and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it’s unrealistic to be good at everything on your first pass. Kids who can’t tolerate failure are vulnerable to anxiety and it can lead to bigger problems when they do inevitably fail.

There is so much pressure on kids today to be the best that it’s important parents let their children know that failing will happen sometimes and that it is totally okay. In fact, it’s brave to try something new, knowing that it might not work out.

Unfortunately we’re seeing plenty of kids today who have received so much help from their parents be it with school projects or just basic life tasks that they become distraught over the most minor misstep. It’s important to remember that genuine self-confidence is created by being good at something, especially when it requires effort to get good at it. Shielding children from this process can create a fragile sense of self-worth.
This is why teaching your child to be resilient and rebound from a failure is so important. The ability to recover from a setback is one of the keys to a happy life.

Being resilient doesn’t necessarily mean thriving in the face of failure; rather, it’s the ability to pick yourself up and put one foot in front of the other. It is not an inborn trait; it’s a combination of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed.

Here are a few tips for helping your children develop resilience:

  • When you see that your child is struggling or having a hard time, empathize with him. Be sure not to brush off his feelings. Try using language like “I know you’re really disappointed and that you wanted to do better.”
  • Explain to your child that everyone fails and offer a story about a time when you yourself failed. You can model for your child how to handle frustration and disappointment. Remember, kids are always watching and taking cues from parents.
  • Look at failure as a chance to teach your child a lesson about resiliency. Talk through what went wrong and use problem solving skills to come up with a plan for what to do next time.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Remind your child that they can try again and use this failure as a learning experience.

Perhaps the most important thing is to step back and let your child stumble. We all want to protect our kids, but it’s important to allow them to fail rather than swooping in and fixing the problem. Failure teaches kids the skills they need—like resiliency—to be successful adults.

About Dr. Jamie Howard

Jamie M. Howard, PhD, is Child Mind Institute's Director of the Stress and Resilience Program; Clinical Psychologist, Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center.

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  • RosieRevereEngineer

    It’s such an important lesson and one that is essential to science, engineering, and just about every endeavor.

    Learing that failing is how we grow is tough, but I’m glad it’s getting recognition as a basic skill.

    “Life might have its failures, but this is not it.
    The only true failure can come if you quit.”–Rosie Revere, Engineer

  • mercedmann2013

    Failure is wearing that scarf as a man.

  • Oladele Oguntimehin

    It is sad that around us we have cases of suicides which at times could be due to kids feeling unworthy because of not meeting up with expectations of family and societies. This is a good step in helping kids to know that most success are often preceded by failures. The key point is not to give up when they fail.