When Your Child Struggles and Fails

Feb 25, 2024

Do you cringe watching your kids struggle and fail?  It can be heartbreaking to witness our kids' disappointment or embarrassment when they try something and it doesn't turn out as they had hoped. 

Theoretically, we know that our kids have to struggle and fail at times.  We know that’s how they develop resilience and inner strength — but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness and our first instinct is typically to help them feel better about it as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, when we are uncomfortable with our kids' failures we can unintentionally send the message that we are disappointed in them instead of for them, and teach them that failure is a bad thing that needs to be avoided.  This can lead to perfectionist tendencies in kids or have them avoiding new experiences altogether.

I will never forget an article that I read about Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx) where she tells the story of how her dad used to invite her and her brother to share their failures at the dinner table.  Instead of being disappointed, upset, or trying to “fix” things, he would celebrate their efforts.  According to Blakely, “Failure for me became not trying, versus the outcome.”  When things didn’t go her way or when she got embarrassed by a situation, her dad would encourage her to write down where the hidden gifts were and what she got out of it.  She said, “I started realizing that in everything there was some amazing nugget that I wouldn’t have wanted to pass up.”

It usually takes time and perspective to see the gifts when we “fail”, but what if we could help our children find them sooner?  Real personal growth typically doesn’t happen when things are easy, and we want our children to learn tenacity and resilience to continue to pursue their dreams even when things get tough and they run into obstacles.

Growing up learning how to take risks and see the real definition of failing as not trying helped Sara Blakely become one of the top self-made women in the world. In looking at anyone that has achieved a high level of success, they’d tell you that there were a whole bunch of “fails” along the way.  

According to Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that did not work.”  And Michael Jordan said “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."  

As parents, one of the best things we can do is reframe failure for our kids, and help them understand that a failure is just one thing that they tried that didn’t work.  It doesn’t mean that THEY are a failure.  

Instead, consider that you can acknowledge and empathize with the feelings of disappointment or embarrassment, AND let them know that you’re really proud of them for trying and they should be proud of themselves too.    

I recognize that it’s totally counterintuitive to want your kids to try to “fail”, but the more that you can get them comfortable with taking risks and trying multiple avenues, and the more you celebrate their efforts and help them recognize the gifts they learned in trying, the more resilient and tenacious they’ll become.

When we teach our children to redefine failure as “not trying” and look for the gifts in each experience, we give them tools that will directly impact their self-esteem, confidence, resilience, and levels of success for the rest of their lives.

If you want to know more about how you can help build and foster healthy self-esteem in your kids, please join us in the Confident Parenting Club this month!  We’re doing a deep dive on building self-esteem and resilience, strategies for when your kids fail at something, how to combat negative self-talk and help your kids tame the self-talk monster, and what to do and say when your kids compare themselves to other kids and find themselves coming up short.  Click here to join the Club!


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