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Given how important the ability to handle failure is on a child’s future success in life, it’s crucial that parents not only allow their child to experience failure and disappointment, but that they foster the right attitude towards failure. Here are some tips to accomplish this:

  1. Teach kids this phrase: ‘It’s only a failure if you fail to learn something from it.’ When asked why he could muster the spirit to persevere after so many failures, Thomas Edison famously remarked: “I didn’t fail… I simply discovered 10,000 ways of how you should NOT make a light bulb.” Promote the attitude that every time we don’t achieve the desired result, that’s a growth opportunity that we can learn from and improve on.
  2. Help kids understand that failure is not a personal indictment against them, it’s part of the process in life. Talk to them about how the best oil companies fail at least 9 times for every 1 well that actually produces oil. How the best hitters in baseball had to strike out often when they were perfecting their swing, and that even at their best, still strike out or hit into an out more times than they get on base. Talk to your teen about how the dating process involves following several promising suitors and usually failing over and over again before you eventually find someone you’re happy with.
  3. When children experience a failure or come up short, parents should help them brainstorm about where things went wrong and how to move forward from here. Ask questions like…
  • What do you think happened?
  • If you could do things differently, what would you do?
  • What can we learn from this experience?

Encourage a three-part reflection: 1) Assessment (what happened and why), 2) Reappraisal (what might produce a more desirable outcome), and 3) Corrective action (what can we do to improve things in the future). Sometimes, the answer may lie in the assessment phase: “We simply had a bad game; everyone has off days.” Or it might lie in reappraisal: “We had a poor game plan/didn’t practice enough; we’ll take steps to correct this in our next game.” Not only does such directed reflection give kids a method for coping with failure (having a corrective plan to focus on is always more productive than feeling helpless), but doing this regularly helps children come to see failure not as a disaster, but as an obstacle to overcome.

Losing or experiencing failure doesn’t feel good. Help children understand this is precisely the point of it. It’s supposed to feel bad, because those painful feelings can serve as motivation to help us strive for improvement. So use it as such.

Reinforce the idea that success comes from perseverance more than it does innate ability.

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