Teach Your Child to Fail and Get Back Up

I’ve noticed a huge uptick in the numbers of kids who are afraid of trying something new or hard. Many of them are afraid just to think anything that seems new to them, or the least bit difficult. Kids who are learning to walk or talk or ride a bicycle are not naturally afraid of failing. They just keep trying until they can do it. So where are the vile and despicable people who are teaching our kids to be afraid of trying new things?

The “success industry” is full of books, magazine articles, and speakers that tell us how to keep trying. But kids don’t tend to look at things like that. If the parent doesn’t get the idea of “bouncing back from failure” permanently introduced into the child’s mind, it is certain that society and the educational system is going to teach them to be afraid of failure.

Traits of a Successful Failure:

1. Optimism. Find the benefit in every bad experience.

Thomas Edison redefined the failures in his experiments as “10,000 ways that won’t work.” He expected failure and counted it as one of the costs of finding a way that would work. By finding the benefit in the failure, he was able to keep attempting something great.

Optimism is not limited to a few people as a personality trait. Optimism is a choice. And while it doesn’t guarantee immediate positive results, it does result in higher motivation and stronger character.

2. Responsibility. Change your response to failure by accepting responsibility.

When we fail at something, it’s easy to blame someone or something else. Perhaps the circumstances or the people that we worked with. But failure is a learning opportunity. If I blame someone else, I’m just cheating myself out of that lesson.

Responsibility is more important than reputation. And it tends to lead to reward, which can lead to more responsibility. Your willingness to take responsibility marks you as someone who’s mature and can be trusted to learn from the failure and keep trying.

3. Resilience. Say goodbye to yesterday.

The ability to move on from failure is key to continuing to attempt great things. The mind can only focus on so much, so if we’re still too focused on what we did wrong, we can’t give all of our attention to attempting to do things right.

Here are five behaviors of people who haven’t gotten over past difficulties:

  • Comparison. Either measuring your failures against those of others, or convincing yourself that your circumstances were harder than theirs.
  • Rationalization. Telling yourself and others that you have good reasons for not getting over past hurts and mistakes. Believing that those who encourage you “just don’t understand.”
  • Isolation. Pulling back and keeping yourself separate from others, either to avoid dealing with the issues, or to continue to feel sorry for yourself.
  • Regret. Getting stuck lamenting or trying to fix things that cannot be changed.
  • Bitterness. Feeling like a victim and blaming others for negative outcomes.

4. Initiative. Take action and face your fear.

When we make mistakes and then consider trying again, we all feel some measure of fear. Facing the unknown, we easily come up with a list of things to worry about. But the act of worrying doesn’t help us at all in accomplishing our goals. As Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.

Just believing that failure can be good isn’t enough to help us succeed. We need to act on that belief and take a step forward again in pursuit of our dream. Only then do we learn from our mistakes and make progress.


Children who have fallen into the fearful traps above are usually easy to spot. By the time these behaviors become fixed, your work is certainly cut out for you in trying to convince him to start taking bigger and bigger risks of failure. But for most kids, learning that the world doesn’t end just because they fail a few times in the middle of learning something hard, is the best path to resilience — and getting back up time after time.

But remember — the child will watch you closely to test your reaction to every failure. If you laugh at him or otherwise show contempt for his sincere efforts to learn, you are making the steep uphill slog even steeper. You have to show the way, for it is your example that speaks louder than any of your words.


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