Learn the art of failing well
College Bound,  Life of a Girl-Mom

Teach your Kids to Succeed at Failure

My daughter is so hard on herself. She is extremely competitive and cannot stand the idea of losing or failing at anything. Even failure at a game of Jenga is devastating to her. Teaching her about failure is challenging because I myself do not fail well. Parents must learn to teach kids how to succeed at failure while celebrating successes.

The idea of failing is difficult, but the best way to combat the anxiety brought on by failure is to understand and accept that failure is a general part of life. I dare say that failure is a necessary part of life. In an April 2019 article, Psychology Today highlights the art of failing well, the article highlights how failure can lead to excellence and success.

Failing at Resiliency

How often do you say to your kids, “don’t give up,” “Get back up and try again”, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Parents often say these sentences to their kids or some variation of it. These words of encouragement may seem motivational, but what it actually does is teach kids to be resilient.

Resiliency is extremely important and valuable, but non-resilient also teaches valuable lessons. It is important that parents teach children to give their best to everything, but parents should teach their kids that their best is sometimes not enough. However, non-resilience and failure builds character, provides redirection and opportunities that may not have been present but for the failures.

Teaching kids to accept that failure happens will set them on a path to rethink the idea of and path to success. Because “If at first, you don’t succeed,” could mean stop and rethink your actions, and plans and decisions, then redirect yourself.

Focus on What You Do Best

It is a good idea to teach kids at an early age to focus on what they are good at. I really like the idea of doing what you do best because doing when a kid focuses on what they do best they understand that they are not good at some things which will create a path to fulfilling their life’s purpose reducing time wasted on tasks that could set them back.

Learning to succeed at an early age sort of creates a checklist of (1) What I do well (2) what I don’t do well (3) lessons I learned from succeeding and from failing and (4) what I enjoy doing. This checklist becomes a lesson on letting go of what we are not good at and focusing on what we are good at. Teaching kids to focus on what they do best will encourage them to focus on understanding their talents and skills, which in turn will help them in determining their purpose and their values.

Set the Example for your Kids

I, like many parents, have failed at so many things. I failed every time I tried out for a sports team in junior high and in high school. Failed at my first attempts of applying to law school. I was unsuccessful at securing a job in my field for ten years after graduating from law school. Now, each day I fail at something either at home or at work or both.

I realized that my kids do not see me when I am failing because I subconsciously shield them from failure. In my kid’s opinion, I am perfect, but watching my daughter agonize over her failed attempts at simple and fun activities like cookie baking made me realize that she needs to know that I fail.

So I tell her and I show her. When I make a mistake in the office I talk to her about it. I often deliberately burn a cake or burn pancakes as proof to her that mommy also makes mistakes and fails. I am not very good at math and she now knows that, but she also knows what I am great at. As I reveal my failures and my flaws, I highlight my successes and the things I am good at, because there must be a balance.

Celebrate the Failures

I know some people reading this heading will disagree with me. But let’s consider what I mean by celebrating failures. Failures are worth celebrating because they are lessons. When we fail, we learn what not to do and what isn’t working, which forces us to move on to other things.

Robert Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Think about that for a moment. Dare your children to do their best, really give it all they’ve got, with an understanding that their best might work out in your favor, but it may not. If their best efforts fail, then they failed greatly because they took a chance, gave it their best but success wasn’t theirs at that moment.

Failure teaches us to try again, to review our work and find alternative steps and alternative solutions. Wouldn’t it be great, if a child knew that failure does not mean an end to their thought process, but rather an opportunity to challenge their thinking and an opportunity to re-align themselves with the best of who they are?

Failures present teachable moments, where parents have an opportunity to help their kids in critical thinking, in developing processes and building character. We can help build better thinkers who begin to realize that failure, may be devastating, but it also teaches so much.

How have you failed and what did that teach you?

thanks for exploring this topic with me.

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12 Comments

  • Amie

    Set the example for your kids…..yep, that’s my problem. lol. I’ve struggled with fear of failure for so long that I am committed to teaching my children to embrace it. And you’re right, I can only do that by embracing it myself, and letting them see.

    • Nikki

      I think we all struggle with finding the balance between wanting our kids to think we are perfect and knowing that we all struggle with failure. Good news is that you are not alone, we are all a work in progress.

  • Maria Black

    Very insightful post! One of the biggest lessons I wish I’d learned as a kid was that I wouldn’t be good at everything (and didn’t need to be). It would have saved me a lot of stress if I’d just focused on my strengths!

    Thanks for sharing this, I’ll definitely keep this in mind for the future

  • rosemary | a hint of rosemary

    Great post. It seems as though in our current environment, the kids are typically being protected from experiencing any sort of failure. It is so concerning. They need to learn how to handle failure and learn from the process. Most importantly, they need to be taught that in our society, we are defined by how we react to those disappointments.

  • Dani

    I reay like the part where you said failure is ” an opportunity to challenge thinking and an opportunity to re-align themselves with the best of who they are.” This is so important and I sometimes think adults don’t even get this part.

  • Karletta

    Love what you’re teaching here. A mentor of mine teaches “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback”. I think that is a great way to see the lessons from our perceived failures.

  • Tracy @ Cleland Clan

    I see this all the time. Some kids are not resilient and don’t know how to brush themselves off to try again. Kids and families should acknowledge those failures (maybe not celebrate them), figure out where things went wrong, and try, try again.

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