Helping Children Learn from Failure

Helping Children Learn from Failure

Sad little girl sitting with soccer ball in lapHelping children learn from failure is critical to helping them develop as a person. All parents know, many situations we find trivial or mildly disappointing can turn into a full-blown crisis for our children … he didn’t get a good grade on a test, she wasn’t chosen for the lead in the play, he didn’t make the winning basket, she didn’t make the team, etc., etc., etc.

Good news! These are great teachable moments … times when we can help our children learn how to manage small stress and disappointments. Times when we can help them fill their skills toolbox with many tools. Tools they will need eventually when bigger stress and disappointment hits. And they will…maybe not soon, but eventually.

Celebrate “failure”.

You can only fail IF YOU TRY! Failing is instructive because it shows children where they can grow and stretch their existing abilities. Learning is a more important goal than getting good grades.

Parents teach children to enjoy the process of learning by expressing positive views of challenges, effort, and mistakes. It is critical to reward effort, learning, and progress. It is important to reinforce the processes that yield success like seeking help, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward.

Share your own failures and how you grew from them. Let you child catch you doing things you’re not great at. Don’t be afraid to try new things, look like a beginner or be just a little “silly”. Jump into that next game of charades, sing out of tune, miss a few baskets. You’ll show your child that he or she doesn’t need to be perfect at everything.

Let your children talk to you about how they feel without judging.

Let your child know you are willing to listen unconditionally to whatever he or she shares. Refrain from criticizing or passing judgment. No one wants to share thoughts and feelings just to be told they are wrong and need to be fixed.

Even if what your child shares seems trivial, silly or irrational, don’t try to explain why things aren’t as bad as they seem. Your child will feel you don’t “get it” or are unwilling to take him or her seriously.

Show your child it’s OK to ask for help.

Self-reliance is an admirable trait, but it can limit our ability, too. The most successful people have learned they can’t do it all themselves. Start by asking for your child’s help … around the house, the yard, with a special project, navigating YouTube, etc. You could share those of famous (to them) people as well.

Even though it’d be easier to fix it, let them solve their own problems.

Don’t rob your child of a win! You can help them problem solve and create an action plan, but let them make the effort – of course, appropriate to their age.

Remind them of successes they’ve had with other stressful situations in the past, times they’ve worked hard to achieve, obstacles they’ve overcome.

Model and talk about what you do to manage your stress.

How do you manage your own stress … swimming laps, shooting some hoops, prayer, meditation, taking walks in the park at lunchtime, gardening, rebuilding cars in your garage? Verbalize how these activities help you feel better about yourself, relax and energize you, change your attitude, etc.

Encourage their faith practice.

You don’t have to tell them what to believe, but encourage them to have a spiritual life…pray, meditate, create a personal mission statement, attend faith community. Encourage them to pray for peace of mind rather than to get their way.


Bob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities. Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series.

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