We’ve all tried desperately to avoid failure at some point in our lives and failed. There’s no shame in failing— we’ve all been there. How we decide to react to failure, though, is what will make or break us.
Children are no different. Every child fails in big and small ways. It’s part of the growing process and it sets the stage for how we handle adversity for the rest of our lives. When done the right way, allowing your kids to fail will build resilience and confidence so your child can be the best version of him or herself.
Benefits to experiencing failure
When a child experiences a setback in life, it can be an important stepping stone to growth. When you reframe failures as learning experiences for kids, life’s lessons are more likely to stick.
Failure can help teach social skills like— honesty, integrity, compassion and fairness. Failure can even teach academic skills like work ethic, intelligence and problem-solving. It can even build personal skills, too, like wisdom, discipline and authenticity.
Every parent wants their child to thrive in life, so it seems pretty backwards that failure is one of the best ways to get there. While failure can be good, it can also go awry. Here are some parameters you’ll want to follow so you know your child’s mistakes don’t cause undue damage.
Parameters to failure
As a parent, it can feel impossible to know when failures are helpful, and when it’s too much for you and your child. Here are some practical guidelines to knowing when temporary setbacks may have negative results.
Don’t allow danger: The exact definition of danger will differ for every parent, but there are some areas where danger is black and white. Actively discourage experiences of failure when it comes to dangerous driving, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, sexual activity, handling weapons, etc.
Consult trusted friends: Asking for advice from your most trusted friends is a smart move if you’re on the fence about letting your child face hardship. Of course, your friend should never make the decision for you, but a conversation about your options can illuminate the right path for you to take.
Trust your gut: You are the expert on your own child, and when you feel stumped about allowing failure, your intuition should lead you in the right direction. Chances are, if the challenges your child is facing feel overwhelming to you, it’s probably too much for your kid, too.
Encourage reflection: Every potential failure is also a potential lesson in self-awareness. When a child makes a mistake, it’s essential to take time out to reflect on the mistake because that’s where learning happens. Help your child to identify his or her role in the error and list a few ways their behavior could have a positive impact in the next similar scenario.
Promote self-forgiveness: Self-awareness should be coupled with self-forgiveness. If a child only notices errors and doesn’t balance the negative messages with positive ones, confidence will plummet. Teaching and modeling generosity towards oneself can increase self-esteem, creativity and empathy.
Ways to promote growth
Growing from failure will look different for each family, and each child within a family. Some children will need tighter reins in learning about limits and natural consequences of behavior. Others will need a push to have the courage to make mistakes.
While you’ll need to cater growth experiences for your children, here are some ways to promote learning experiences.
Make time for social growth: Most learning opportunities will come from your child’s interactions with peers and adults. Ensure your child has that important social time in circles where he or she feels comfortable;
Reflect together: Take time to review your day or reflect on certain impactful behaviors. You, your spouse and other siblings can partake, or it can be a one-on-one chat;
Allow for discussion: In order for your child to grow from failures, it’s important that he or she recognizes failures. It will be difficult, but pointing out mistakes is less effective than having a conversation where your child leads;
Don’t overreact: It’s important to see natural consequences of behaviors play out, but dramatizing errors will make the lessons fall flat. Respond authentically, but not over-emotionally.
Letting your child experience failure in a safe and constructive way is a delicate dance, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Your children will grow in confidence and resilience so they can face any obstacles life has to throw at them with grace and compassion.
Failure is important but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary. Both you and your child can access help in the difficult journey of growing up. If you need help navigating appropriate failure, check out Pyramid Online Counseling.