The Importance of Letting Your Child Fail

As kids, we all had a friend whose parent could be overbearing: The parent who would always make a second trip to the school to drop off the lunch box that their child left on the kitchen counter or the parent who would volunteer for every school trip so that they could be there with their child.

These parents are known as helicopter parents, and in today's society, they are more anxious and stressed than ever before. They fear failure and don't want to see their child experience the same pains.

As a result, they are suppressing the opportunity for their child to learn and develop as an individual.

Cultural portrayals of failure and ‘losers’ have created a stigma around failure. Fear of failure is not natural in children, who learn best by trial and error.

Instead, it is created by the anxious parent who projects their fear onto their child. This fear of failure results in over-parenting.  

It is not uncommon to see a parent stepping in and changing lifelong rules for their child.

In an attempt to distort reality to protect their child, the parent creates false expectations and assumptions. What starts off as a well-intended act of parenting could actually be causing damage by stripping the sense of independence.

Parents have moved away from the idea of, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and allowed their children to stop short after failure.

Letting kids fail in life is an essential milestone in their journey to success.

The Value of Failure

Today's culture values the absence of pain and failure.

Of course, it is difficult for any parent to see their child experience discomforts such as physical injuries, peer rejection, or heartbreak.

As adults, we recognize that a great deal of pain can often be related to failure and try to prevent it for the next generation. Yet there is value in failure to be found.

Failure is inevitable and a natural part of childhood.

A despairing child may cry out, “It’s too hard! I can’t do it. I need help.”

A parent might be tempted to help by completing the challenging task for them or make it easier. However, in doing this, the parent is removing the child’s ability to practice, learn and try again.

Using a Tee post to aid your child as they learn how to hit a baseball is acceptable at first. Once they become experienced, proceeding to make things easier for them will only harm their skill to be a great player.

They will wonder why they didn’t make the team, but it was because they were not challenged to be better.

Limiting a child will prevent them from breaking through the dam and achieving their real potential.

If parents refrain from remove obstacles from a child’s life journey, they will have the opportunity to learn to overcome challenges themselves.

Disappointment often accompanies failure and is strongly felt when a child relates the consequences to their own actions and takes on the responsibility.

Taking ownership of their failures can be disheartening at times, but is rewarding in the end.

As kids experience failure, disappointment can weigh heavily on their shoulders and discourage them at times. Yet, it will prepare them to respond and not react to the next similar situation in the same way.

They should be allowed to experience and understand their feelings and know how to cope with them in the future.

Defining Failure and Creating a Safe Space to Fail

To begin fighting back against the epidemic of fear, we have to identify and attack the root which is the stigmatization of failure.

‘Failure’ and ‘losing’ are two terms that have become synonymous, creating a taboo around the pair.

Redefining failure as separate from the concepts of winning and losing is important. Parents should promote healthy ideas of failing and encourage effort and integrity.

This will aid in creating a safe environment for your child to fail in.

Home and school are naturally safe environments for children to experience and experiment with failure.

Failures in these setting have low-risk consequences and are meant to aid in the child’s development.

They should be challenged to problem solve in their academic and athletic experiences. Parents should avoid interference and encourage perseverance instead.

Experience is the best teacher, though parents like to think they are.

Kids can use failure as an opportunity to learn and think for themselves. Think and work through the experience with them without manipulating their emotions and thought process.

Negative emotions and pain will come with failure, and that is okay.

Not making the sports team or failing a math test may seem like the end of the world to an adolescent but remind them that it's natural and that they will be okay.

They should learn to understand their emotions and learn to work with them in the future.

Praise their genuine efforts. Even when they try their absolute best, they may find themselves failing. Continue to be their number one fan without giving undue praise.

Rewarding minimal effort is misleading and harmful. Encourage your children to persevere and do their best.

Let merit shine through.

Sports make cuts to remain competitive, rewarding hard work and sportsmanship.

Encourage your child also to value hard work, building their own path to reach their goals.

Michael Jordan said, “I've failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” 

It is hard to see our kids upset or disappointed, yet even one of the greatest athletes recognizes the importance of failure.

Creating a safe space for them to fail and encouraging perseverance will help them learn to turn those failures into successes.