Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Fail (Part II)


This is part two of a two-part lesson on taking risks, making mistakes, and teaching children resilience. You can read part one here.

A great deal of research suggests that learning or acquisition of any skill happens most easily over the course of little stretches outside of our comfort zones. In other words, kids will learn to cope with failure most effectively in the context of activities in which they are not struggling 100% of the time. Thus, it is reasonable to think strategically about how to best provide your child with opportunities for skill development and growth in showing persistence and resilience—ideally, you want him/her to be challenged, but not totally overwhelmed!

Modeling Persistence

In addition to providing our kids with chances to practice persisting, we can consciously look for opportunities to model the way that we cope with frustration or difficulty in our own lives as a means of teaching these skills to our children. This kind of modeling helps teach children the language to use in challenging moments and provides additional help in normalizing mistakes, failure, and disappointment (“even my parents make mistakes!”). In addition, such modeling also offers opportunities to show our kids how we can gracefully rebound in difficult situations . . . and even learn and grow! As parents, we can narrate or articulate our thoughts in such situations as they occur, or—if we’re not able to catch ourselves in the moment, and respond in ways we regret—replay these situations with our kids after the fact. Here are some examples:

  • “Oh, man. I’m just learning how to play tennis, so I hit a lot of balls out—but I’m going to keep practicing even though it’s frustrating because I know that’s how I get better.”

  • “I got frustrated because I burned dinner . . . but now I know what to do next time. And hey, there’s a silver lining, because now we get to have eggs and toast. I wish I’d been able to think about that in the moment, I might not have gotten so upset.”

  • “I’m working on a really tough project at work right now. It can be frustrating, but I know I’m going to figure it out and get it done eventually, even if it’s not perfect. I’m making some mistakes, but I’m learning a lot as I go.”

Pointing Out Resilience in Others

Finally, we can look for and point out examples of situations in which others—especially others whom our kids look up to (e.g., friends, sports celebrities, TV characters, etc.)—display the kinds of skills we are hoping to help our kids develop. For example:

  • “Oh, wow. Steph Curry missed that basket, but I love the way he just rolled with it and kept on giving his best effort instead of getting stuck in feeling disappointed.”

  • “I noticed the way your friend Sarah stayed calm even when she was so far behind on the game of Sorry you guys were playing. That must have been frustrating for her, but I was really impressed by how she kept herself focused and playing.”

  • “I heard your art teacher mention that it took him a long time to learn how to draw people—did you hear him say that it used to be really tricky for him, but he practiced a lot, and that practice made it seem much easier?”

Having these kinds of conversations with our kids on an ongoing basis sets the stage for the way in which we can talk with our kids about their own mistakes or challenges in the moment that those struggles occur! 

You can learn more at a Tuesday, November 7 workshop at Practice San FranciscoPersistence:  Evidence-Based Strategies to Help Your Child Take Risks, Make Mistakes, and Become More Resilient. Stay tuned to the blog for more on this topic as we continue our ongoing series on mindfulness, resilience, and coping.

Nina Kaiser is a licensed psychologist (CA PSY 22555) with over 15 years of experience in working with children and families. She specializes in evidence-based behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, and mindfulness-based strategies to help kids, teens, and parents effectively cope with stress, worry, and emotion. Over the course of time, it became clear to Nina that these are key life skills that everyone needs to learn and practice. She founded PRACTICE San Francisco with the goal of building a community to support all children, teenagers, and parents in learning and applying these research-based strategies in order to live more peaceful and joyful lives.


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