Teaching Our Children How to Fail

Failure is fundamental on the path to success.

Photo by the blowup on Unsplash

Fifteen years ago, I remember listening to a radio broadcast talking about the importance of teaching your child how to fail. In fact, the speaker mentioned it was probably the most important thing you could teach your child. What kind of crazy talk is this, I had thought while driving home. Don’t we all want our children to succeed? As a perfectionist, I thought failure was often the worst-case scenario. Little did I know then that avoiding failure is also a sure way to also stay away from success.

“Failure can become our most powerful path to learning if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.”

— Brené Brown

Failures can help build a strong foundation for your growth. The iceberg is often used to illustrate the idea of success. The part of the iceberg you see above the water is usually the result of someone’s journey to success. The largest part underneath contains the tremendous amount of hard work, the repeated failures, and the disappointment that went into achieving that success.

Photo by Danting Zhu on Unsplash

Celebrities and inventors are classic examples of how success is built upon dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of failures. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 tries to create a commercially viable light bulb. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected by publishers more than 30 times. Imagine what creative discoveries our children could make if they were encouraged to continue brainstorming and innovating even after experiencing a setback.

“I bend, but I do not break.” — Jean de la Fontaine

When things are not easy, we need to learn to keep trying and push through the uncomfortable. Learning about resilience can help us survive and thrive during difficult times. We also need to give our children the skills to be resilient by helping them learn how to move toward goals and encourage them to learn from their mistakes along the way.

Failure only has a negative connotation when you assign a negative meaning to it.

A recent study found that the brain can find failure rewarding if given the opportunity to learn from its mistakes. A failure becomes an opportunity to try again with the new knowledge you acquired. A growth mindset is thinking that your hard work contributes to your talents being developed and you view failures as learning opportunities that help propel you forward. Growth mindset TED talks are also a great way to help teach children about learning from their mistakes.

We need to be more open about talking about mistakes and model appropriate responses to failure.

You can start by talking about your small mistakes with your children. My children often retell stories of when things didn’t go as planned like how we accidentally left my daughter’s backpack at home on her first day of kindergarten. There is often a relief and comfort on their faces knowing that we can openly discuss our mistakes together. I hope my children continue feeling comfortable coming to me when they make mistakes, especially as they get older.

Being open about talking about our failures can help us greatly with connecting with others.

The stories that make us laugh the most are usually about some sort of failure. These stories often become viral posts shared on social media. Normalizing failure also helps negate the idea that those who fail at the small stuff need to feel ashamed. Those who fail really just need connection.

We as parents also need to take a step back and let our children make mistakes on their own.

This article talks about the dangers of “lawnmower parenting” when a parent tries to remove all obstacles so their children can have a higher chance to be successful. It is important for children to take an active role in their life, especially when it comes to self-advocating as they get older. Children need to be offered frequent choices to help them find their own voice.

When we try to stop children from failing, we hinder their creativity.

Some of the most innovative and creative solutions can come from our children. My 4-year-old daughter taught herself to open the garage door by pushing the button with a spatula from the kitchen. My other daughter at 6-years-old figured out that she could use Amazon Alexa to help check her math homework. A lot of times in parenting, the best thing we can do is stand back and get out of our children’s way.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” — Helen Keller

I often think about our stigmatization of failure and its role in mental health. If more people realized that failure was a key part of success, perhaps some people could be saved from entering the depths of anxiety, depression, or addiction. We all fail many times, over and over again. It is a part of being human. If we were more open about discussing our failures, perhaps more people would realize that they are not alone. If we view failure as being more like a discovery, maybe we would be more open to taking risks in our lives.

Your repeated failures are actually a signal that you are on a path to success.


Published by elleinbloom

Hi, I'm a mom of two, passionate about writing, travel, and mental health. I feel the most powerful in my garden.

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