Posted: Jul 24, 2013 5:00 AM
 
We're used to praising our kids' accomplishments and focusing on the things they do well to foster a drive to succeed. But what about the things they don't do well — the failed tests, the lost games, the hard mistakes? Teaching our kids to recognize the value of "failure" and learning from mistakes may provide more important and needed lessons about success.

It took only a week of kindergarten last year and the first backpack full of returned papers for my daughter to realize that if you follow directions and work really hard in school, you get stickers and smiley faces. Lesson learned: Success equals rewards.

Of course we say things like "just do your best, that's all that matters," but kids? They pick up on things quickly — getting 10-out-of-10 correct is better than two wrong answers. So, the bar is set high early. Strive to succeed. Go for the win.

That drive, of course, isn't a bad thing. It is, after all, what pushes us forward. But, just as important as discussing striving to succeed with our kids — if not more important — is talking about how to handle failure. It's going to happen in life — many times.

Failing a test, falling off the bike, saying the wrong thing, losing a game — each of these presents an opportunity for kids to learn something new and move on.

I noticed later in the year, after she completely forgot to study for a spelling test, that my daughter instinctively felt disappointment when she didn't do well. No proud smile as she pulled her test from her backpack to show us, no running to tape her paper to the refrigerator. I laughed it off then, even taking some of the blame for not reminding her to study the night before and assuring her she'd do better next time. But I realize now just how valuable those letdowns are. Failing a test, falling off the bike, saying the wrong thing, losing a game — each of these presents an opportunity for kids to learn something new and move on.

It's important for me to teach my kids that failure isn't the opposite of success — it's part of success.

So how do I do this?

First, I want my children to feel comfortable talking about failure. It doesn't take kids long to shamefully sweep failures and disappointments under the rug when they only see parents celebrating all-star performances. When I sense that my kids are disappointed with their attempts or see that something didn't go well, I want to jump in and initiate conversation, injecting humor when possible.

How does this make you feel?

What did you learn?

What will you do differently?

And most important — did the world end? Did life crumble? Did the people who matter stop loving you because you can't figure out how to ride a bike without training wheels?

The year Babe Ruth broke the record for the most home runs in a season is the same year he struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball.

The fear of failure is what keeps us all from taking creative risks, but beyond those risks is a world of opportunity and fulfillment. The year Babe Ruth broke the record for the most home runs in a season is the same year he struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball. I want my kids to know this — that the people they admire for being good at something are who they are because they also faced failure.

I aim to strip away the fear of failure for my kids as best as I can by facing it head on.

"What did you fail at today?" I want to ask them with a smile.

And excitedly, they will tell me what they learned and how they grew.

The f-bomb is welcome in our home.

More on teaching lessons of success and failure

What's on your child's emotional wish list?
The myth of self-esteem
Are you a snowplow parent?

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