Parenting Skills: How You Can Teach Your Child To Use Failure to Become Successful

Last Updated on August 31, 2021 by Thinkster

“Failure isn’t the opposite of success. It’s part of success.” – Ariana Huffington

When your child comes to you, like a dog with its tail between its legs, and shares that they got a 65% on a school test, your initial reaction may be:

“Why? Didn’t you study?”

“I thought you said you were prepared!”

Or an exasperated sigh while you think, ‘Well… shoot!

As a parent, you want your child to grow and succeed academically, socially, emotionally, and professionally. Part of this success means that they are performing at their best.

Failure is often thought to be a bad thing. It means we messed up or didn’t do enough.

In actuality, though, failure is a valuable experience and can be the wake-up call needed to learn and improve.

Steve Jobs is proof of that.

In 1985 he was fired from Apple – the same company that he later rejoined and revolutionized. He never gave up and turned his personal failure into some of Apple’s biggest successes – iPods, iPads, and iPhones.

It’s crucial to begin nurturing how your child is experiencing and handling failure – even if they aren’t at a Steve Jobs level of innovation quite yet.

Stop fearing failure

“Success is failure in progress.” – Albert Einstein

Why is it that kids fear failure?

It’s not just about receiving bad grades. There are many different moments where kids feel like they did something wrong or should have done better.

Maybe they got lost trying to find their math classroom on the first day of school. Perhaps they missed a shot in a basketball game and their team lost.

Two world-renowned psychologists, Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Tversky, found that the “effect of loss is twice as great as the gain from a win.”

We fear and try to avoid failure because it has a greater psychological impact than winning.

Kids, who learn an incredible amount each and every day, inevitably face many failures. This is why failure and their interpretation of it need to be handled carefully.  

Failure results when there is a mismatch between expectation and actual performance.

It is like if your child expects to shoot 40 points in their basketball games, then feels like a failure when they only shoot 8 points. While they might live in a slight dream-state with their high expectation,  they still feel like a failure for not performing to their goal. 

This mismatch of expectation and performance can lead to high frustration, but – in actuality – is not a bad thing at all!

Failure helps to reconfigure expectations. It promotes the needed motivation and curiosity to try again, which then leads to performance success.

Turn self-doubt into confidence to generate success

One of the most important things to teach your child is that failure does not mean they’ve reached the end of the road and that they should give up.

Failure is just presenting them with the chance to try something new or to try a little differently.

Your child is likely going to hesitate to try again if they are full of self-doubt. This is one of the reasons you should examine how you respond to your child’s failure.

Before telling your child that their grade is unacceptable or that you’re upset with their performance, adjust your interpretation and reaction to failure.

Instead, ask “can we think about why you didn’t do well?” or “what do you think you can do differently next time?”

Talking to your child about their failure in a positive light can help them develop the confidence to try again to succeed.

talking with kid

Make sure your child doesn’t focus on failure for too long or let it consume them.

Gently push your child forward so that they crave the opportunity to try again – just like Walt Disney.

One of Disney’s first companies went bankrupt because he had trouble running a business. He was also fired from a newspaper because they doubted his creativity.

Instead of letting these moments define him, he learned from his personal business failures and created a company and magical experience that would withstand time.

Your child needs the same encouragement to keep moving forward and to try again if they experience failure.

It’s important to offer the reassurance that it’s okay and to even celebrate failure if they don’t succeed at first.

Learn how to improve  from mistakes

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

Mistakes happen. Failure happens.

Pay attention to how your child reactions and improves from these experiences.

Encourage your child to learn from their mistakes. This means they are taking the time to reflect on what they did wrong and what the outcome should have been.

To successfully learn from mistakes, though, your child needs to learn how to improve after making a mistake.

Say your child decides to try and make brownies from scratch.

Let them work completely on their own. If they make a mistake and mess up the measurement of an ingredient, they’re going to realize their failure as soon as they taste the brownies.

To really learn from their mistake, your child needs to identify what exactly went wrong (“I added too much sugar”) and what needs to be done for a better outcome (“I need to cut the measurement in half”).

It’s not just recognizing what the intended outcome is, it is about understanding what steps will lead to that outcome.

Along with the ability to recognize failure comes the development of self-awareness. This is a skill that may be difficult for your child to pick up on, but is incredibly valuable as they move to higher levels of education and then to a professional field.

In addition to recognizing mistakes and learning to grow from them, help your child work on communication skills and to verbally alert others when they do need help. In doing so, your child is becoming a self-advocate of their learning.

The ability to recognize mistakes and understand what is needed to improve is an incredibly valuable skill to nurture.

Self-recognition of mistakes leads to greater learning efficiency and success

Mistakes Discovery

For your child to become truly successful, they need to begin recognizing their own failure and take steps to improve without being asked or told how to.  

This is a skill that they can be nurtured over time as your child develops their ability to use self-discovery and self-teaching methods.

It’s essential to help your child understand ways that they can systematically organize their thinking. This way they have a clear process to follow.

When your child recognizes that they make a mistake and need to try again, encourage them to follow a process similar to the scientific method:

  1. Make an observation – this step comes from experiencing failure
  2. Form a hypothesis – determine what they can do differently
  3. Test the hypothesis – try again!
  4. Analyze – were they successful this time around?

When your child can do all four steps on their own, they are then able to recognize their mistakes and try again. Systematically organizing their thinking helps them work more efficiently, which can lead to success.


Help your child grow from failure and reach true success

The next time your child comes to you and is afraid to share that they failed, turn the conversation into one about improvement. Share examples like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and others. It helps give them confidence that – even if they need to tackle a few setbacks – they can absolutely attain success.

At Thinkster Math, we thrive on this philosophy. Our students learn not to fear failure and instead embrace the opportunities to learn from their mistakes and try again.

Check out more about us and our overall approach and philosophy.

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