How to Help Your Child Grow Through Failure


How to help your child grow through failure is often easier said than done! We want to protect them as much as we can, but failing and learning to grow from it is essential for both their learning and resilience. I was reminded recently however, of how painful it sometimes can be…

My 6 year old daughter opened a ‘spa’ at school. Friends could make appointments for a massage or have their hair done. She used leaves for her business cards and wrote the spa’s name on one of the benches. I admired her entrepreneurial spirit!

A few weeks in, she relayed her difficulties in getting ‘customers’ and friends who no longer wanted to take part. She was disappointed and upset. Listening to her, my instinct was to fix it and take away the hurt. My mind went into overdrive. There was so much advice and so many ideas I could give her – how she could improve what she had, how she could encourage her friends to help, how she could make it a ……SUCCESS.

But I stopped when I heard myself talking about the finer details of business card making and how she could encourage friends to take part. I wanted to help her; I wanted it to be successful so she would feel a real sense of achievement. But I was in danger of taking away any potential joy. I was in danger of taking over; of doing it for her, in a bid to save her from possible FAILURE.

As parents we don’t want our children to fail and feel the pain that that brings. But if we don’t allow them to fail, to make mistakes, what are we depriving them of?

We’re living in a world where there is increasing pressure on children to succeed; and it starts from an early age. This pressure compels many parents to constantly set their children up to succeed and to view failure as a negative. But what is the potential cost of not allowing our children to fail? Jessica Lahey, (educator and author of The Gift of Failure), notes that:

We’ve ended up teaching our kids to fear failure…..(but) setbacks, mistakes and failures are the very experiences that will teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient.

Not allowing our children to fail we run the risk of them:

Being fearful of failure.
By fearing failure, children run the risk of not trying anything new; of not taking risks. This can be from things such as putting their hand up in class to avoiding any new activity.

Feeling helpless
Feeling that they can’t do things as the risk of failure feels too big and scary.

Missing opportunities
Opportunities to build resilience, perseverance, practice problem solving skills and learning how to make good decisions are taken away.

Not coping with disappointment
Unable to bounce back from disappointment and understand that it’s not the end of the world.

Not learning from mistakes
Learning that making mistakes is integral to learning.

What does the Research Say?

Research suggest that children who are fearful of failure often have lower self confidence and a less developed self-concept.

Professor K. Haimovitz at Stanford University carried out research on mindsets. In her study, Haimovitz claims that parents are instrumental in how children will view failure and how to respond to it.

Although not always easy, she states that parents can do this in the way they react to their child’s failures. She explains that if a child comes home having done poorly on a maths test for example, how the parent responds will have an impact on how the child perceives their own ability to learn maths. Even a comforting response she suggests, such as telling your child that it’s OK because they are brilliant at reading, can send a message that it’s time to give up on maths, rather than learn about the parts they got wrong.

Haimovitz advices parents that, when your child is struggling or has setbacks, don’t focus on their abilities, focus on what they can learn from it.

The Benefits of Children Learning through Failing

Provided that children receive the right response, support and guidance from adults when they fail, the benefits are significant. They include:

  • Building resilience.
  • Having the confidence to try new things.
  • Strengthening problem solving skills.
  • Being able to cope with and tolerate feelings of frustration.
  • Embracing their mistakes so that they can improve.
  • Learning how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

How to Help Your Child Grow Through Failure

Young children will inevitably fail at things. These failures however, bring golden opportunities for learning and development. Below are some tips on how you can respond to your children in a way that will encourage learning to take place and benefit from the positives that these situations provide.

Show Empathy

If your child is upset, validate their feelings. Show empathy with the way they feel with words such as, ‘I can see how disappointed you are’. Help them label their emotions, such as, ‘sad’, ‘frustrated’.

Make Mistakes Learning Opportunities

Make it a teachable moment. Remind them that mistakes are part of the learning process. If we don’t make mistakes or fail, then we’re not learning how we can do better.

Share your Stories

Share age appropriate stories about your own failures, how you learnt from them and how they enabled you to do better.

Be a Role Model

If you fail at something, such as not getting promotion, or having an unreasonable reaction to something they did, role model an appropriate response. Use positive talk about yourself and explain what you’ve learnt from it; where you went wrong, and what you’ll do in the future. Let them see that nobody is perfect; that everybody makes mistakes and not only is that OK, but that mistakes help us to learn.

Ask Appropriate Questions

To hep your child learn from the experience, ask them pertinent questions, such as asking what their role was in the outcome, how they could behave differently next time and what they think they have learnt from it.

Provide Inspiring Stories

You don’t have to look far to get a list of successful people who failed numerous times before succeeding. Share these stories with your children. Let them know that the one thing all of these successful people have in common, is a string of failures before they succeeded. Their failures didn’t make them give up. They learnt from them and produced something better.

There will be everyday day occurrences where our children will fail; whether it’s failing to take their library books to school on the right day or failing a test. But it’s allowing our children to grow from their mistakes that is key. Knowing that it’s OK to fail/make mistakes, will be fundamental to them growing into resilient, strong, individuals who are not afraid to try new things and take calculated risks.

Enabling this as a parent isn’t easy and a fine balance is needed. We need to support our children without setting them up for failure. We need to help them so they can do things on their own, (but not to the extend that we’re doing it for them, and that becomes their expectation). At the same time we don’t want to be too far removed, that they get frustrated and give up.

What happened to the ‘spa’?! After a break from doing it, she decided to carry on. We spoke about the difficulties and what she had learnt. It turns out that the biggest thing she learnt was the need to be competitive in business if you want to succeed! That others will copy and you need to come up with new and better things. She also mentioned that she’d been for a massage at her friend’s ‘spa’. Checking out the competition?!

Over to You..

How to help your child grow through failure will be an on-going process, but one that will get easier for both you and your child. Over time you will discover what works best for your child. Has allowing your child to fail been a difficult area for you? Do you have any stories to share where you’ve seen the benefits to your children? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Related: How to Build Resilience in Your Child