Teaching Kids to Learn from Failure

shutterstock_24051493.jpgNo one wants their kids experience failure, but it's one of the most important life lessons you can teach him/her.

You've coddled, cuddled, and cooed. Now it's time to let your kid get his first hard knocks—here's why it's actually the kindest thing you can do.

Go ahead and let him experience a letdown or two. Yes, believe it or not, a little bit of defeat can be a stepping-stone to triumph.

Think of the things you learn when you encounter and move beyond failure.

  • You learn how to tolerate frustration
  • You learn how to get creative
  • You learn how to take different approaches to tasks
  • You learn how to ask for help

These are all things necessary for long-term success in life.

  • If this is all true, why do so many of us try to eliminate failure from our kids' adventures? Ashley Merryman, coauthor of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, says it's because we have the mistaken idea “that children are very fragile and that any bad outcome they experience, no matter how big or small, could damage their developing self-esteem.” But, she adds, “Science has proven that it's just not true. Achievement builds self-esteem, not the other way around.”
  • The takeaway: Here are a few scenarios you're sure to come up against and how to handle them with aplomb when you do.


Big Sibs, Big Inferiority Complex

  • A 2 years old wants to do all the same things that his 4-year-old brother does.  He tries to climb on a bike, and then he's sad because he can't reach the pedals. Or do a puzzle with him, but can't make the pieces fit. When he realizes he can't keep up, sometimes he'll cry and stomp his feet and shout.

From hot mess to success:

  • The mom does her best to provide toddler versions of things the big brother likes—say, a ride-on toy to enjoy while the older brother is biking.

            She also makes a point of letting the 2 year old practice puzzles and other skills while his sibling is in preschool: “Sometimes it's easier for him to try     when his older brother is not around,” The mom explains, “Sometimes he’ll   say ‘You're too little to do this!’ and then he gets discouraged.”

  • shutterstock_72057175.jpgWhen the mom makes mistakes of her own, she can model how to handle them in stride, too (“Oops, I just dropped my ice cream cone!”). The key is to normalize failure so your child knows he's not the only one who doesn't get things right on the first try.

Less Than Letter-Perfect

  • A N.J. mother knows all about failure, from A to Z. Actually, one letter is getting her down. “They're practicing writing in preschool, but my daughter can't make an ‘X.’” “Her lines are wiggly or won't cross properly. She gets really worked up.”

shutterstock_30389215.jpgFrom hot mess to success:

  • The mother reminds her daughter how far she's come. “I tell her ‘Just think, last year you couldn't write your whole name, and now you can. Give it a little more time and I am sure you will be able to make an X, too!” She has also drawn an X and put a piece of tracing paper on top of it to give her a template.

“Show your child that he's not the only one who doesn't get things right on the first try.”

Losing It

  • A 5 year old boy likes playing the card game UNO—until someone beats him. “He can get sad or sometimes even have a tantrum,” notes his mom. That's a scenario many parents know well.

shutterstock_89359765.jpgFrom hot mess to success:

  • The boy’s mom never stacks the deck in her son’s favor. Instead, before she deals the cards, she strikes a deal: “I say we'll play three games no matter who wins or loses, as long as there's no whining. If he whines after losing a round, then it ends all play and we try again after a 15-minute cool down. I tell him ‘I love playing with you and spending time together. If you win, I'm happy, and if I win, I'm happy. It's just for fun!’”

The mom says,  “At the end of playing UNO, as long as he’s able to, we always shake hands and tell each other ‘Good game.’” Good sportsmanship is something that never fails to help a child—or adult—in the long run.

Happy Parenting!


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