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Four Reasons to Let Your Child Fail

As a parent, grandparent and teacher for over 30 years, I have experienced children reaching successful achievements and also feeling disappointments.

Disappointments, in life, can be considered failing. To many, the word failure is considered an extremely negative word, but really, failing is an important life experience.

Some parents have the intention to build self-esteem and feel that allowing their children to fail will cause suffering to their child’s self-esteem. Let’s consider a situation. A child forgets her homework and tells her teacher, “My mom forgot to put it in my schoolbag.” A few minutes later mom runs to the rescue and brings the forgotten homework to school. What was learned from this experience? The child learns that she does not have to be responsible —  mom will take care of it. Mom taking care of the homework is not a bad thing, but it would have been okay for the child to accept the consequence for forgetting homework and she would learn that the day would go on as normal.

Here are my four reasons for believing that children should learn that it is ok to fail:

  1. Failing Builds Confidence:  When children figure things out for themselves, it builds confidence. Your three year old wants to pour a glass of water. You imagine the water flying everywhere! You decide to do it for him. What message are you sending? You are implying that he can’t do it.  If you let him pour the water and he spills it, no big deal. He will learn to be more careful and eventually, he will do it and feel extremely proud and confident. When children learn to walk, they try and fall and try and fall again and then it happens — they begin to walk. How do they feel? If you keep trying and figure things out yourself, your confidence grows.
  2. Failing Promotes Problem Solving: When your child fails they will think about how they can avoid falling into the same situation… in other words, they will learn from their mistakes. Here is a personal example: When my daughter was in eighth grade, she received an F in English. I had a chat with her and found out that she did not like her teacher and felt he was being unfair to her. I was tempted to call the school and scream at the teacher. Instead I said, “Listen…you are going to meet many people in your life that you are not going to like and your grade is your responsibility. So how do you think you can solve this problem?” She thought about it and listed a few solutions and next marking period, she received a B! Did she fail the first time? YES! Did she problem solve? YES! Did she learn from her mistake? YES! If you evaluate the situation, you will come up with ideas to do better the next time!
  3. Failing Encourages the Idea that Hard Work and Perseverance Pays Off: Your child will realize when he fails that if he doesn’t practice, he may not make the team. He’ll learn that if he doesn’t study for a test, he may not earn a good grade and if he doesn’t do the homework that there will be consequences. Here is a scenario: Your child goes out for the basketball team. She knows how to play the game. You think she is terrific, but she does not make the team. Now there are 2 choices. You could try to convince the coach to give your child a chance or you could encourage your child to practice more, get to learn the game and show her that her hard work pays off! Hopefully the next time she will make the team. If I work hard and practice, I have a better chance of making the team, getting a better grade, and feeling good about my accomplishments.
  4. Failing Allows Children to Learn and Grow through their Mistakes: This is an important life skill for your child to learn and experience. I like to say, “Forget the mistakes, but remember the lessons learned!”

If we don’t allow our children to fail, then they expect everything to be perfect and we enable them to be helpless adults. As Mary Tyler Moore said, “Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” In other words, if we are always on top, we really cannot appreciate being there. We have to experience failure in order to appreciate success!

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