Why I Want My Kids to Fail

Why I Want My Kids to Fail

Failing gracefully is an important skill, and parents must teach their kids how to do it.

By: Leah Maxwell

I want my kids to have happy childhoods, but that doesn’t mean I want them to only ever feel happiness and satisfaction and the weight of gold medals around their necks. Granted, it would be much easier to live in a world where my sons were naturally good at everything they did and always won first prize and constantly basked in the glow of success … but that’s not real life, and part of my job as a parent is preparing my kids for real life.

In the real world, nobody wins all the time, and I want to make sure my sons learn to deal with disappointment at an early age instead of tackle it for the first time when they go out into the world on their own and have to learn that hard truth without Mommy by their side to wipe their tears and tell them it’s going to be OK. If we don’t teach our kids how to handle failure, we’re training them to become insufferably entitled adults, sore losers, and even sore winners.

When it comes to teaching kids how to deal with failure, the only way out is through, and the only way through is to actually let them fail. I don’t mean we should set them up to fail on purpose (don't throw your kid into the deep end to teach him how to fail at swimming, OK?), but I do think parents should be alert for opportunities to let their children fail and prepared not to protect them from failure simply because it hurts us when they’re sad.

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We’re all familiar with the helicopter parent who hovers over her child on the park just in case, heaven forbid, he fall off the play structure and tumble 2 feet down into the woodchips. Emotional helicoptering is just as prevalent, and it’s not doing anyone any favors. Letting our kids experience negative mental and emotional situations -- and then teaching them to navigate through those feelings -- is as important (if not more so) as teaching them how gravity works on the playground.


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Consider these benefits to letting kids “fail”:

  • They learn healthy ways to handle disappointment.
  • They learn that they have to work hard to be good at certain things.
  • They learn that there are some things they won’t be good at and that’s OK.
  • They learn how to lose gracefully and congratulate a winner.
  • They develop a sense of empathy for other kids experiencing failure.
  • They learn how to be adaptable and resilient.
  • They learn that not being afraid to fail means more freedom to take risks and try new things.

If I’m doing my job right, my kids will know what it means to come in first place but also second place, 10th place, and even last place. They’ll also come to expect the same warm hug from me in response, as well as a reiteration of how we’ve redefined success in our family: Success is when you try your best, no matter the outcome. Success means you worked hard. Success means you didn’t give up.

So, yes, I want my kids to have a happy childhood, but I also want them to have a childhood that prepares them for real life, which, last I checked, is not a place where everyone’s mommy makes sure nothing bad ever happens. In the end, I’ll consider myself a success if I’ve taught my kids how to fail.

Do you let your kids fail?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/ BassittART

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