Skip To Main Content

I am the main cook in our house. My kids occasionally enjoy reminding me of some of my more epic recipe failures over the years. The most common one is what we refer to as The Broccoli Soup Incident. I attempted to make broccoli cheddar soup one night for dinner, keyword being attempted. When we sat down at the table my children and husband all willingly gave the soup a try and then proceeded to pretend it wasn’t awful. I took one bite and knew I was very lucky that none of my kids had exclaimed “This is gross!” We all laughed, emptied our bowls into the garbage and headed out the door to pick up some dinner. I like to think that my kids learned something about how to handle failure by the way I dealt with the soup fiasco. I stayed calm, recognized that it wasn’t the end of the world, and I didn’t give up on trying to make broccoli cheddar soup in the future.

So why am I telling you about my epic soup failure? Failure is part of life. In fact, learning to fail can help kids learn how to be successful. All too often, parents focus on doing everything they can to help their child succeed. Whether it is helping their preschooler complete a craft project, so it looks like the example or bringing their child’s forgotten lunchbox to school or packing their sports equipment, so nothing is forgotten, parents rescue their children from failure.

Learning how to handle failure can help protect kids from experiencing anxiety. Children who struggle with failure are more likely to have meltdowns when they do eventually fail. And let’s face it, everyone will eventually fail at something. Learning how to fail helps kids develop resilience. They are more likely to keep trying despite failure and be more willing to try new things.

According to Amanda Mintzer, PsyD, at the Child Mind Institute, “distress or frustration tolerance is an important life skill to master. When it comes to school, “the ability to tolerate imperfection-that something is not going exactly your way-is oftentimes more important to learn than whatever the content subject is,” One might argue that helping our children learn to fail is actually a school readiness skill. So, if this is such an important skill, how can parents help their child learn to fail?

  • Allow your child to do things for themselves. It can be extremely hard for parents to watch their child struggle and fail at something. When we swoop in and rescue our children, we are stealing away an opportunity for our children practice problem-solving, overcome disappointment, and build their confidence.
  • Try new things. Trying something new can be scary because there is the possibility we might fail. I recently watched a video about a young man who joined his high school swim team despite not knowing how to swim. When asked why swimming, he said, “I felt like, if I couldn’t handle not being good at something, then how could I consider myself a successful person.” One dear friend of mine frequently told her children, “We can do hard things.” Watch the whole video here.
  • Focus on effort instead of results. It is easy to fall into the trap of praising results. “Your picture is beautiful.” “You are so smart.” “Good job.” I know I have said these things to my own kids from time to time. The problem is that when we focus on results instead of effort, it can discourage our children from trying new or difficult things. Instead focus on the effort your child put into something even if they failed. “Wow, you spent a lot of time working on your picture.” “All your studying paid off.” “You worked so hard.”
  • Be empathetic. When your child is upset due to failure, don’t brush off their feelings. Label their emotions. Let them know it is okay to feel upset, sad, disappointed, or mad.
  • Practice problem-solving. Once you have helped your child navigate their feelings, it is time to help your child problem-solve. What can they do different next time? Is there someone they know who could help them?
  • Be a model. Whether is modeling how to handle an epic recipe failure or something else, how we handle our failures is important. We can model how to handle our emotions around failure and how to pick ourselves up and try again. Our kids are always watching us. If they see us fail at something and try, try again, they will be more likely to do that when they fail.

Throughout life, our children will experience failure. If we can teach our children how to approach failure as a learning opportunity, the more prepared they will be face these challenges and succeed.