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Want Your Children to Be Happy and Successful? Let Them Fail

July 28, 2017

We would do anything to protect our children. But our instinct to shield them from everything can backfire.

There is growing recognition of the important role failure plays in building strong character and setting children up for a good life. But children failing can sometimes be harder for the parents than for the children themselves. Protecting them just feels so right, so it’s hard not to let them win at a board game, jump in when they’re struggling to button their shirt, or do part of their homework for them.

But we’re not doomed to act on those instincts. Below, we’ll share three tips to help you overcome the tendency to interfere and to let your children learn from small setbacks.

The Benefits of Failure

As adults, we know that failing at some things is just part of living in the world. We’ve all had obstacles we couldn’t surmount – the instrument we could never learn to play, the fitness goal we could never reach, the lemon meringue pie that never turned out right – and then there are those skills we’ve acquired and goals we’ve reached only after a long struggle.

We’ve learned how to deal with these failures and not let them defeat us. And with our help, our children can learn to do the same.

Resilience

Children have big feelings, even when they face small challenges. Its important for them to learn how to manage their emotions in these situations. A lot of that is just a matter of getting used to them.

By not letting children fail at small tasks, we’re not giving them the resilience and strength they’ll need to recover from the bigger obstacles they’ll face later on.

Perseverance

When children don’t learn to deal with failure, they don’t develop one of the important tools for success: grit.

Learning a skill, reaching a goal, and making it through rough patches all take perseverance and fortitude. Every star athlete, successful entrepreneur, and creative professional had to work through several small failures to get to where they are. By letting them experience the triumph of finally achieving something after trying and failing, we teach children how to surmount challenges and attain the big successes on the other side of them.

Self-Esteem

Finally, failure is also important for a child’s wellbeing.

It might seem paradoxical, but not letting our children fail can make them feel like failures. When we jump in immediately to rescue them from a difficult task, we might be doing it out of love but we’re sending them a different message: “I don’t think you can do this, so there’s no point in you even trying.”

When our children are struggling with a task, they want our support. They want us to show them that we believe they can and will learn to tie their shoes, buckle their own seat belts, or figure out how to multiply two numbers. They don’t want to feel like it’s hopeless because someone has to come in and do it for them.

Three Tips for Learning to Let Them Fail

It can feel almost impossible to just sit back and watch your child have a hard time with something. Even if we know that failure is good for them, it’s hard not to jump in to the rescue. So, here are three tips that will help you take a healthy approach to failure.

  1. Reframe Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Part of the problem is that we think of our children failing as, well… them failing. None of us want our children to fail; what we want is for them to grow from the experience. And the first step to letting them fail is to reframe the failure in our minds.

Instead of thinking of it as letting our children fail, we should think of it in terms of what we’re really doing: helping them learn. Once we start to think of these small challenges as learning opportunities, we can calm that urge to rush in and do everything for them. After all, the last thing we want to do is deprive them of learning.

  1. Talk It Through

When they’re trying to do something and they can’t quite seem to get it right, children will, naturally, get frustrated. We can help them by talking them through it. Instead of sweeping those feelings under the rug, empathize with them. Let them voice how they feel and help them put a more positive spin on it.

Help them realize that they’ve failed at this attempt, but that it doesn’t mean they’re failures. Point out something that they’re good at, and remind them that it took them a lot of work to become good at it.

Talking it through won’t just help them deal with the experience. It will also help you feel like you’re doing something about their struggles and not just standing by.

  1. Model Failure

When our children are young, we practically look like superheroes to them. They’re still struggling to put on their shoes and they see that we can cook whole dinners, read books without pictures, and teach them something new every day. Show them that we can fail too is an important step to giving them a healthy attitude toward failure.

Tell them about a time when you failed at something. Show them how much hard work went into something that seems to come to you so easily now. And when something you’re trying doesn’t turn out quite right, use it as an opportunity to show your kids that you face challenges, just like they do.

Showing them we’re not perfect will teach them an important lesson about humility and will also make them feel like they’re not alone in their struggles.

Ready for the Real World

There’s no way to protect our children forever. The best thing we can do is help them develop the skills and character traits they will need to deal with adversity. With those, they’ll be well on their way to living happy and successful lives.

To learn more about the benefits of letting children fail and to get advice on helping them manage failure, check out Jessica Lahey’s excellent book, The Gift of Failure.

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