By Jayme Waddell, LSW – April 12, 2022
As a parent, my goal is always to help my children succeed. However, I have realized that kids actually need help learning how to fail. When we fail, we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and eventually succeed. This isn’t necessarily a new idea but one that I now understand better as a parent.
Failure is inevitable. If kids don’t learn how to tolerate failure, it can leave them vulnerable to anxiety and stress, which often results in meltdowns, regardless of age. It may also lead kids to give up altogether. Acquiring the skills necessary to cope with failure is a crucial part of success.
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes in the world, has spent decades speaking about failure. He has discussed the importance of perseverance and resilience, both on and off the court. His legendary accomplishments and hard work have turned him into one of the most impactful basketball players of all time. Was he born a champion? No. Did he have a raw talent for the game? No. He was relentless and never gave up. He accepted failure as part of his success.
As the pressure to win increases, we see more kids getting distraught over the smallest error. Therefore, it is increasingly more important for kids to learn how to tolerate imperfection. I would argue that learning how to cope with these mistakes may be even more important than whatever lesson or skill they were working on at the time the mistake was made. Learning how to fail is a necessary part of accomplishing any goal. It is an important life skill for kids to master to become more independent and thrive in the future.
Teaching kids how to fail is a process that starts with empathy. Saying, “it’s okay,” “nice try,” or “you’ll do better next time” can invalidate the child’s feelings, which could lead to more frustration and disappointment. Try changing the approach to be more empathetic: “I can see that you are upset. I know you wanted to do better.”
Modeling how to handle your own disappointment can also be impactful. Sharing your failures and explaining that failure is part of life can help normalize setbacks. Children are not always exposed to the reality that we, as adults, make mistakes and experience failures. It’s important to teach our children that it is okay when things don’t always go according to plan.
Make failure a teachable moment. When a child fails, there is a great opportunity for parents to teach critical thinking skills like problem-solving, self-regulation, and open mindedness. Try helping your child figure out what could be done next time for potential success. This is all about balance – we want to build distress tolerance skills by accepting that the situation “is what it is” while also recognizing what we learned or what we can do differently next time.
Watching your child fail can be difficult, but learning how to handle mistakes can only be done through exposure. When we hover or try to protect our children from every misstep, we rob them of the very experiences that require problem-solving. We take away the opportunity for them to experience resiliency and build the confidence necessary to take on new challenges.