Learning From Failure


Let’s face it, no one likes to fail. 

It can be embarrassing and frustrating and, at times, it can lead to major setbacks.  And, as parents, isn’t it our responsibility to protect our children?  The answer to this question is a complex yes and no.  

The reality is failure is an inevitable part of life.  Allowing children to fail early and often when they have your support prepares them to deal with failures as a teen and adult.  But in a world where there is so much pressure on kids to succeed, as parents, it can be difficult to allow them to fail. 

In her book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Jessica Lahey writes about how parents who are overprotective and failure avoidant are actually undermining their child’s competence, independence and academic potential.  

Research shows us there are actually many benefits to failing. 

Failure provides us with opportunities to learn and grow.  It increases resilience and protects us from anxiety and depression.  It also increases self-esteem, self-control and problem solving skills.  

When parents step in and make decisions for our children or complete their tasks, we are sending the message that we don’t think they are capable.  We are telling them failure is bad and they should avoid it at all cost. This is just not possible.  By allowing our children to fail early on, we are there to support them and equip them to deal with future failures.  If children aren’t allowed to fail early on they could end up suffering more as adults when the consequences of failure are more serious.  

Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in an All About Me World, states “ Failure is a part of life and if our children don’t have the opportunity to fail or make mistakes, they’ll never realize they can bounce back.  That’s what resilience is all about.”  

How do we go about supporting our kids and allowing them to fail?  

Rachel Simmons, a resilience expert, suggests first examining your own fears about letting kids fail by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How would I parent right now if I weren’t afraid (or anxious)?
  2. Are the consequences of the mistake permanent or life-threatening?
  3. What will they learn if I step back and allow this situation to unfold?

Once you have answered these questions, you can decide if now is a good time to step back and allow your child to fail. Oftentimes, we perceive things as life threatening when they really aren’t.  For example, we want our children to get good grades in high school so they can get into the best colleges and universities.  But not getting into the best college or university isn’t actually life-threatening. There are many colleges and universities that could be a good fit for your child. 

Allowing your child to fail doesn’t mean you do nothing. 

There are things you can do to support your child through failure that are incredibly beneficial.  

  • You can sit with your child while they experience all of their emotions that go along with failing.  Failing is hard, take time to validate their feelings and let them know it is okay to feel that way.  Avoiding the feelings that go along with failure has the same detrimental effects as avoiding failure.  
  • Normalize failing.  Failing is a normal part of life.  We all fail sometimes.  Talk about and even celebrate failures as a path to learning.  
  • Be their biggest cheerleader but allow them to try and fail on their own.  Stand on the sidelines and let them know you are here to support them every step of the way but they got this.  They are capable of doing this on their own.  

If you need support stepping back as a parent and allowing your child to fail and grow, you can call us at (217) 203-2008 or send us an email to schedule. 

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Read more about Erin Graham here.