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How Children Learn From Failure

January 22, 2014

failureEven though you do your best as a parent or a nanny to shield your children from harm, it’s not always possible to prevent disappointment and failures. In fact, your child will experience just as much failure, if not more, than he will success.

Learning how to deal with failures and grow from the experiences teaches a child resilience, confidence and maturity. As your children embark on this developmental milestone, it’s important for you to be right by their side as the supportive and enthusiastic cheerleader, guiding them through this teaching moment.

Listen, Love and Let Them Fail

As your child walks in from school and slings his book bag on the floor with a frown that can be seen for miles, it’s likely he has received a low grade on an assignment, failed at an attempt to conquer a task in class or was rejected by the girl of his dreams on the playground. To the young mind, these setbacks can be devastating. However, you have the opportunity to teach him how to learn from the failures he has experienced.

Parents and nannies play a very important role in helping children deal and learn from failure.

Lois Clark, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences at Ohio State University Extension, suggests the following strategies to support and encourage your child when he or she is coping with failure:

  • Love your child unconditionally. Make sure that your child knows that you love him or her regardless of how he or she does. Do not ever tie your love for your child to success or failure in accomplishing a task.
  • Develop an understanding of what your child is developmentally capable of achieving. Learn more about child development and what children at different ages are able to accomplish.
  • Have realistic expectations concerning your child’s performance. Parents should not set unusually high or low standards. Know what your child is capable of achieving and set goals based on what is appropriate for your child.
  • Provide guidance for your child. Children need to know that success and failure are a part of life. Knowing how to get back up and try again after a failure is an important lesson.
  • Celebrate and discuss successes. Help your child see what he or she has done to enable a particular success.
  • Provide an environment at home that has some structure and order. Structure and organization help children learn that life goes on after things have not gone well. The daily routine can be both comforting and reassuring.
  • Help your child learn to deal with his or her emotions. Children may experience joy, pride, guilt, shame, sadness or a host of other emotions. Children need to talk about their feelings and emotions. Parents can help children learn how to express their emotions in a socially acceptable way.
  • Help your child to develop positive social relationships that can provide support when things go wrong. Other caring adults and friends can also provide guidance and direction in a child’s life. They can serve as role models. Your child can observe how they respond to success and failure.

Model Positive Reactions

Beyond helping your child see the benefits of a failure, think long and hard about how you manage and handle your own failures to see what your children are learning through your example. As the role model, your children observe your behavior and reactions closely, according to Melody Brooke, Texas-based family therapist and author of “Oh Wow This Changes Everything.” “If our children see us responding by drinking or being angry, then that’s what they will learn to do,” she says.

Instead, model positive reactions instead of negative responses when you experience your own setbacks. If your child is upset about a poor grade or his performance at a sporting event, refrain from belittling him or telling him what he did wrong.

Instead, Brooke suggests asking him how he feels about the end result and validating that his feelings are real. Positive reinforcement that you support him in his efforts and love him for both his successes and failures will encourage the child to continue trying until his weakness becomes a strength.

“Failure is how a child learns and learns to develop confidence,” says Brooke. “We can encourage this learning and self confidence development only if we respond positively to the failure ourselves.”


2 Responses to How Children Learn From Failure

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Jan S. says:

I think my kids are as successful as they are because they learned to fail gracefully and take those failures and learn from them. We don’t teach enough of that these days – great article.

Katie says:

It’s so hard to watch your kids fail and not want to swoop them up and fix everything for them. However, I definitely think it’s something kids need to learn how to do – and like Jan said – do gracefully. I’ve worked for multiple families where the parents haven’t let their kids really experience failure, which ends up allowing the kids to think that they’re immune to it.