Must-have skill #8: failing successfully

“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time,  
give ourselves permission to excel.”
— Eloise Ristad

If you never try something because you don’t want to fail, how would you ever get better? How would you learn your weaknesses? How would you eventually succeed?  

Fear of failure is a debilitating ailment with symptoms including inactivity, anxiety, demotivation, and procrastination. If your child seems steadfast in their aversion to trying out for a sports team, entering competitions, or studying for a test, they may have the dreaded fear of failure. This is unfortunately common due to social conditioning, but the mindset your child should actually adopt is that failure is not bad but the natural step towards success.  

Luckily, there are ways to remedy this. The first thing a child should learn is that failure is completely okay, even encouraged!  

It will take hard work.  

It will take patience.  

It will take resilience.  

In the end, failing multiple times does not make them a failure. It only makes them better versions of themselves, and this will always be worth the struggle and discomfort.

In order to help your child succeed without fail, here are some suggestions as to how they can learn to fail successfully:

Accept failure

The deep belief that failure is bad needs to change–and this will be a process. Many times, they may doubt themselves or what they’re doing. Even years later, they may seem to be entirely cured only for this old belief to come creeping back in a moment of weakness.

However, with time, they will better internalize this new belief that no matter how hard they try to protect themselves or how hard they work, they will fail sometimes–and there is nothing wrong with that. It is as natural as breathing, learning to walk, and stretching after a good night’s sleep.  

Fail often

“Failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s part of success.”  
— Arianna Huffington

The more your child fails, the more they will improve. This can be scary for parents and children alike, but to reap the most rewards, children need to start this early and do it often. This will help them get used to it and grow comfortable with the disappointment that follows failure.  

This will also show all of their weaknesses, which can be painful but essential for growth. They aren’t going to get better immediately after one failure, and some issues persist because they are deep-rooted ones, such as self-doubt and impatience. Let them engage in trial and error as many times as they need to see what works for them and what doesn’t. To help them, shower them with as much love and support during this time as possible.

Work hard every time

Even though failure is a natural part of growth, your child should not go out there with failure as the goal. No matter what, they should make as much effort as they can each time with the intention of winning—that is where true improvement comes from. The important thing is to be okay with falling short of the goal.

Sometimes, children are scared to do their best because that might mean their best was not enough. This is understandable, but the important part is not that “their best was not enough” but that they did their best in that moment. Sometimes, children believe that success comes from pure luck or natural talents rather than hard work. Success might come from a combination of the three, but hard work can never be a missing piece.  

Look back at what could be improved

After failure, it is important to devote time to some retrospection. Some kids may want to jump ahead to the next opportunity or move on from the disappointing results, but they need to take a step back. It’s important to let them know that they can’t go onto the next step without looking back and learning from their mistakes.

Make sure your child reviews what they can do better next time because the goal is always self-improvement. If they did not do as well as they would have liked in the Math Olympiad, have them look over the questions they got wrong. If they lost a music competition, have them practice their weaker techniques. It could even be their test-taking method: Did they run out of time? What can they do to take full advantage of the given time?

Try, try again

“90% of all those who fail are not actually defeated. They simply quit.”  
— John Maxwell

Some children might feel defeated after failing, but they should be okay with trusting in this process and trying again to perfect what they couldn’t on the first attempt. If your child was disappointed with their JEI Essay Contest results, for example, they may not want to go for it the next time. They do not want to relive that disappointment. However, it is important that your child gives themselves another chance.  

Failing a lot, as mentioned before, is important, but so is trying again at whatever they failed. There is no point in doing the retrospection if your child does not implement what they learned on their second, third, or even fourth tries.

Practice self-compassion

Children can be too hard on themselves, and failure is particularly hard. Even after failing a lot, it always hurts a little to see their best was not good enough, so make sure your child is gentle with themselves. Sometimes, they do not fear criticism from others so much as they fear that they weren’t, aren’t, and never will be good enough.  

Make sure to foster a positive attitude in your child, reminding them that they should treat themselves like they would their best friends. Guide them toward self-compassion. Encouragement and patience are key, and it helps to get them from parents and teachers, too. It’s okay to have off days, of course, but general pessimism is another big killer of success.

Encourage internal competition

“Comparison with myself brings improvement, comparison with others brings discontent.”  
— Betty Jamie Chung

Another mindset issue is a child’s tendency to compare themselves with their peers. Make it clear to your child that the only person they are competing with are themselves. If they got an 85 on a test, they should try to beat the 85 instead of feeling sad that a classmate got a 95. This does not help them in any way.

Parents and teachers should try to boost this idea of “the only person to best is yourself.” Do not compare them to others or they will adopt that mentality. Only talk about your child’s results, strengths, and weaknesses. Children only fail if they never improve themselves. They have to look within rather than without.

It is hard to avoid the negative stigma placed on failure. For too long, people have made failure out to be this horrific disease that must be avoided at all costs. People are made to feel bad about their failures. Only wins are highlighted in success stories, when actually the shadows of failure bring relief to the light that is success.  

If you want your child to succeed, it is best to work at undoing any negative beliefs they may have about failure. It will be hard, but their aversion to failing is keeping them from their infinite potential, so try to engage them in this process of failing successfully as best as possible! It is a must-have skill for everyone, children and adults!