Helping Your Children to Fail Well

Failure is Enabling

One of the things I often notice about other parents is their unwillingness to acknowledge that their kids screw up. I see this a lot with teaching, but as a parent myself, I'm sometimes stunned by the magnitude of the blinders over some peoples' eyes. When did it become such a bad thing for a kid to be wrong? While it can be devastating for a parent to set an expectation of failure, it can be equally harmful for a parent to set up a guarantee of success. I might be old fashioned for feeling this way, but I think failing at things is a necessary and enabling process. It allows us to set benchmarks and goals; it allows us to stay humble and respectful of the task. Failing reminds us that the ultimate purpose of anything we do lies in the trying. It seems lousy to take this opportunity away from kids, particularly when it's one thing that is so easy to give.

Fictional Success is Worse

Some children today simply don't know how to fail well (as in the picture to the right), which results in some children not really knowing how to try well. Kids wail and swear when their teams lose; they point the finger at everyone but themselves when they fail a test. A typical session of parental consolation follows a typical episode of kid panic, which leads to more undue drama down the road. Why do some parents comfort their children when their children clearly haven't done their best? While well-intended, soothing children after they have a melt-down is essentially letting them know that yes, it really was as bad as they have imagined. This is why so many children pass the buck or freak out when things don't go their way. This is why so many kids lack a real understanding of tenacity. Their parents have unknowingly confirmed that the rest of the world just doesn't understand, and too many kids, in turn, find it perfectly acceptable to find fault outside of themselves for their own lack of trying.

This "fictional success" is dangerous. It helps a child to believe that the world owes them, which is the main ingredient in entitlement. I have never met an entitled person who is happy. Entitled children tend to grow up to be sulky, self-serving adults. Building a child's self-esteem is a wonderful part of being a parent, but deceiving your children into believing that they can do no wrong simply replaces self-confidence with a sense of entitlement.

Empowerment, Not Entitlement

So, then, what is a more balanced approach to parenting children? Separate the child from the action. If your son fails a test, it doesn't mean that he's a failure. If he takes it this way, then you've likely modeled an incorrect response for him. You've likely helped him believe that he's the victim when he fails, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. A child with healthy self-esteem responds to a failing grade with "I am going to kill myself studying next time." A self-confident person responds to a pounding on the soccer field with "I know I can do more to help my team win." There may be other factors influencing both those outcomes, but those are not factors that your child can own. Your child can only own himself, and it's your job to teach him how to do that. Praise your child for who she is, but correct her for what she does.

As a good parent, you must also always look at yourself honestly. Are you incapable of shouldering your own successes and failures? Do you separate a failed task from a failed you? Do you expect your child to respond to failure well when you don't?

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Comments 62 comments

richtwf profile image

richtwf 5 years ago

Excellent hub to remind us that we need to help children understand the concept of failure and that there is nothing in wrong in failure. The only thing wrong about failure, is the large number of us who think that failure is wrong and a sign of weakness or shame.

To err is human and we need to be reminded that making mistakes is fine and that by making mistakes we have an opportunity to learn from them.

Cheers for sharing this very useful hub.

P.S. you might be interested in this relevant hub:

http://hubpages.com/health/Ingredients-for-Success...


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Richtwf, thanks for the comment. After publishing this hub, I had actually read yours and found that we were like-minded on a few issues. Yes, failure is a blessing of sorts. I wish people would stop looking at it as a source of shame, rather than an opportunity for growth.


Kaye McCulloch profile image

Kaye McCulloch 5 years ago from Australia

Great hub, thanks! voted up :)


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Great hub. Of course I voted up.

When I was doing my Maths Diploma (Teaching of Mathematics), I did a study of 'Mistakes'; while searching for quotations for my cover, I found this amazing quote: "The man who never made any mistakes never made anything else."

I've never forgotten it and pass it on to anyone I feel needs it.


Lady Wordsmith profile image

Lady Wordsmith 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

Failing at things is how we learn, and children can't learn from mistakes if they've been told that they haven't made any. It makes absolutely no sense to me to allow children to think that everything is achievable without work or effort or thought. I see this awful kind of parenting every day, and am just thankful that I'm not that kind of parent.

I agree with everything you say, and I just wish that many, many more people in the world had as much common sense.

Thanks for this great hub.

Linda.


crochet48 5 years ago

Learning to fail and teaching our children to accept the responsibility for their own failures isn't easy, but it's necessary. When a child is able to achieve at one level, then finds that same achievement isn't going to happen at a higher level, this is the time to teach them about learning to fail and take responsibility.

Thank you for these words. Very thought-provoking.


Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco

Great Hub. The concept that children need to make mistakes and not always be protected starts at a very young age, before they can even walk. In fact, I think, allowing children to make mistakes provides us with the best teaching moments. As long as your child is going to be safe, i.e., not going to be hit by a car, fall of a cliff, or have severe emotional damage, we need to allow them to learn from their mistakes with natural consequences. When we observe them making a mistake, see the consequence of their action, and give them thoughtful feedback (e.g, that really must have hurt when you fell running in the house) they internalize the mistake more readily. Plus, we don't have to be constantly yelling, "Stop running in the house!"

When children learn to deal with these mistakes early on in life, the are more able to handle mistakes later on. When we empower children at a young age to make their own decisions and mistakes, we help create children who can make good decisions later on when it counts.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Kaye, Twilight, and crochet48--Thanks so much! Your support truly means a lot to me (and that's a great quote!).

Lady Wordsmith--I'm hoping that we're just on a pendulum swing, and that soon enough, common sense will win over again. Right now, it seems the majority of parents refuse to acknowledge any mistake on the part of their children. I think it's a terrible shame.

Robin--Excellent point about how early this starts. It is all about empowerment. Constant fictional success results in helpless children, not strong ones.


sagebrush_mama profile image

sagebrush_mama 5 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

This is outstanding! I just recently mentioned in a hub the self-esteem classes which were held when I was a new teacher...the children couldn't receive an "F" because it wasn't conducive to self-esteem.

Failure is a teacher, as much as success, and especially if it helps our children to explore and learn more. Our attitudes, as parents, are key to how our children respond to failure.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thank you, and I couldn't agree more, sagebrush_mama. Unfortunately, we too often think self-esteem is the result of endless positive affirmation. Without a balance of concern and guidance, however, we simply create victims of entitlement.


annaw profile image

annaw 5 years ago from North Texas

Great insight,well written and definately a thought provoking subject. I am a grandmother and I see the benefit and wisdom here. I have to imagine parents reading this are going down their checklist to be sure they are empowering and not hindering theirchildren down the rough road of life. Thank you so much for this piece


Papa Sez profile image

Papa Sez 5 years ago from The Philippines to Canada

"Are you incapable of shouldering your own successes and failures? Do you separate a failed task from a failed you? Do you expect your child to respond to failure well when you don't?"

As a parent, I have to be aware of these questions. Thanks for this insight to become better parents.

Cheers!


suzyjews profile image

suzyjews 5 years ago from Spain

Good hub, i also agree that as a parent you should not allow your child to win at everything like a game of ball or a board game. So many parents allow their child to win or tell them they've won when they haven't to save tears and tantrums. Life is just not always about winning and the sooner kids learn this, the better. Harsh but true :-)

Thanks for a great read.


Jennifer profile image

Jennifer 5 years ago

I can't stand how in many youth sports now they don't keep score. Even though no one is keeping score, you had better believe that the kids are all keeping score in their head. What is the point in trying to avoid it? They all know who won. I couldn't agree with you more.


Laurel Nicolosi 5 years ago

So true! I think that if you can't own up to and learn from failure, you never truly succeed. Your mindset is not there...you think everything that goes wrong is NOT your fault and this is really highlighted in your hub. Great food for thought - own up to mistakes, learn from them, and move on to success! :)


Chris 5 years ago

Totally agree...kids are too sheltered nowadays which doesn't allow them to adapt well to different situations.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thank you, annaw. I appreciate you reading it!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Pap Sez, yes, we all do. I remind myself of them every day.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

suzyjews--I sure wasn't allowed to win everything when I was growing up. I'm guessing the same was true for you. Somewhere along the line that changed.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Jennifer--Perhaps there's some merit to the idea for kindergarten-age children, but even then it's problematic. I'm not sure of the perfect "fail to succeed" ratio, but I do know that it all starts with us.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Laurel--You hit the nail on the head! It's the lack of ownership overall that bothers me, both by children and adults.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Chris--That's not the recipe for creating particularly competent adults, is it?


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

As these issues apply to all of us, I overlap a bit in this hub: http://hubpages.com/health/We-Dont-Deserve-a-Thing


droj profile image

droj 5 years ago from CNY

Nice hub. I especially like "praise your child for who she is, but correct her for what she does". Very poignant, because it can be somewhat of an art to correct a child without bringing down her confidence.

One thing I'm trying to instill in my kids is "the only real failure is not trying a again" (me, 2010). :)

BTW, I love that last picture; reminds me of my daughter. :)


bcatgray profile image

bcatgray 5 years ago from United States of America

Excellent hub! Now please submit this to the Parent magazines so that other parents can see the harm that they are doing to their children by shielding them from all failures!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, droj. It sounds like you're trying to instill good things in your children. Unfortunately, we're fighting a tide.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Bcatgray, I appreciate you reading it! I'll tell you what...I'll give your suggestion a whirl.


Ms Re profile image

Ms Re 5 years ago from Memphis, TN

There wasn't one failed point. :~D

Well said.Children(and adults) must continually learn from failure. Separating failure and knowing that you are not the action, just the attempter is essential. Getting back on that horse when you fall off, not giving yourself a pity party, and doing your best is the key. Great Hub!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Ms Re, thanks so much. Sometimes it feels like the whole world has turned into a big pity party, doesn't it? I want my children to stand on their own feet.


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

A focus on what's needed to learn, takes the stress out of the feeling of failure - which is just a reaction to a situation. If the parent practises rephrasing the 'failed' situation hub into a focus on what is needed for the next time/attempt or in general. If the parent leads, the child will follow. Thanks for the stimulating hub.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks for reading, chspublish!


NJ's Ponderings profile image

NJ's Ponderings 5 years ago from Hickville, NY

Excellent article. Voted up!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, NJ's Ponderings!


JHogan 5 years ago

Great article and I agree so much with what you have said. A couple things stand out:

First, success is in the trying, as you mentioned. Second, children are living sponges and "soak up" what they see around them. Parents need to model the kind of behavior and attitude that they would like to see in their children but many expect that their children can flourish in the midst of poor modeling. It's just not possible so, again, model the kind of person that you would like your children to become and the results will be quite amazing. Being a parent is the most difficult, but important, job in the world but we are ill equipped when we begin. It takes practice, just like learning to be good at anything. Nice job and thank you!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Hmm, JHogan...I think I might know you! ;)

Thanks for reading.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 5 years ago from Texas

I voted this hub way up because I think you gave some excellent points here on how children should react to failure in a positive way and not let it get the better of them, of course parents are the influence here and there are many parents out there that have "PITY PARTYS" themselves and that is what the child is going to learn. And you are right in saying that children should learn what it feels like to fail at one point or another in order to set a higher standard for themselves, on the other hand they should realize that they can't win them all as they say. Cheers to you for such a well written hub.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thank you, ladyjane. I think teaching gives me a triple dose of this. Thanks for the comments!


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I agree that failure is necessary to one's growth esp to that of a growing child. If a parent can help a child through this process, the child will come out stronger and able to deal with the challenges of life in a better way. Thank you for this hub. Beautiful!

Also, congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! Please follow me: http://bit.ly/hv3VHi


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, ripplemaker. I appreciate your comments. :)


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

LOVED the hub and wisdom within it. Wow, if only more parents would utilize this for their children. It's a shame. Congratulations on your nomination. I voted this hub 'up' and useful Nicely done. Welcome to HUbpages.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Such wise advise. Being the second child after a perfect 1st one, it was sometimes very hard for me to meet up to my parent's expectations. I have tried all my life and feel that parents also need to treat each child as an individual and not compare them. Great hub and congrats on the nomination.


thewayeyeseeit profile image

thewayeyeseeit 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA

Thanks for this article. I totally agree that many parents take far too much control over their kids' lives in that they try to insulate them from failure. Some parents, aptly labeled "helicopters" because they hover over their child's every action, manipulate the environment to the extent that the child does not know any life reality at all. So sad.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

There seems to be just as much good advice posted after this article! Thanks to all three of you. I truly appreciate your support and well-wishes. :)


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I read the article, but not the comments, sorry - it is a long discussion! I agree that failure teaches us more than success. We don't appreciate happiness unless we know what misery is.

I don't like all "A's" students, there is something wrong there. But different personalities treat, handle failure differently. When I was a child, I was criticized for not being good enough - my response - I avoided trying. I navigated my way - off the tasks where criticism was eminent. It was not good for me. I grew up O.K., but my inferiority complex? Still alive and kicking.

My son has a different personality with delay in development. He fails because he is not up to speed. It is frustrating for everybody and for him in the first place. We all know that it requires patience and he will be fine. But he keeps repeating "I'm stupid, I'm a jerk, I'll never be able to behave properly", "I will never go to college." My assurances that all of it is not true is met with "The guys from the 3rd grade told me that." Apparently, 3rd grades have more authority than a mother.

My only hope is that all these difficulties will teach him eventually to value success.


Karanda profile image

Karanda 5 years ago from Australia

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Well deserved after reading this Hub on a most important topic. Too many young people grow up with an unhealthy attitude to failing. Well thought out and delivered.


Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah Demander 5 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination. Teaching personal responsibility is hugely important for parents. Unfortunately, many haven't learned it themselves. This is a well written hub.

Namaste.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

kallini2010--I've had straight A students who were comfortable with who they were. I've also had straight A students who saw anything less as an unforgivable failure. Those students likely had parents who criticized rather than empowered. It's a shame that so many parents "encourage" behavior by exposing their own insecurities, isn't it?

With your help, your son can become the most tenacious young man in the world. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, either. Thanks for reading.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Karanda--Thanks for the congrats! The best part of this has been that I've gotten to discuss a subject that's important to me.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Deborah--Yes, it's the number of adults who can't fail well that really bothers me. You can't teach a child what you don't know yourself.

Thanks for reading!


Esmeowl12 5 years ago

I appreciate your insight. This will help a lot with my teenager.


ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 5 years ago from Texas

Congrats on your win! Cheers.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Esmeowl12--Thanks! That's probably the ultimate compliment.

ladyjane1--Thanks for your support. Now I just need to figure out what to write next. I seem to be painfully slow at this right now.

If anyone's interested, give this one a read: http://hubpages.com/family/Emulating-a-Childs-Mind...


nkrohini profile image

nkrohini 5 years ago from India

Nice Hub! Congrats! we should indeed teach children to fail too.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

nkrohini, thank you for stopping by.


DoItForHer 5 years ago

Mistakes are not our enemies! Mistakes are our friends!


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Or at least our friendly acquaintances, anyway. Thanks, DIFH.


Shawneepaints 5 years ago

It's comforting to read so many other parents who see failure as a positive issue rather than something we should strive to sweep under the rug! I agree that it is better to teach a child to learn from his or her mistakes than to be ashamed of a failure. To act otherwise breeds little monsters who think the only acceptable thing is to win and parents who act like their children can do no wrong.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks for reading, Shawneepaints.


StarCreate profile image

StarCreate 5 years ago from Spain

Very important and well considered article. I believe we do our children a great disservice if we fail to teach them that the world is competitive, challenging, and sometimes unfair... but that they can learn to live with this and be resilient. This is one of the reasons we left the UK education system - after seeing an 8 year old being told off for cheering her classmate at sports day 'because it's not very nice that someone has to lose'. Excuse me? If the first time a child encounters failure or frustration is in adulthood, how on earth are they going to cope with the rest of their lives?


Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 5 years ago from Michigan

Excellent hub! Great advice on the parent/child connection. voted and rated.


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

StarCreate--Unfortunately, there's currently a tug of war going on in public education, and not only in the UK. The battle is between those who believe firmly that failure is necessary as part of a child's development, and those who believe anything short of "you're wonderful" will permanently damage a child's self-esteem. I believe that common sense will prevail. Whose common sense, I'm not so sure. ;)


shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks so much, Support Med. I appreciate it!

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