How To Coach Kids To Cope With Failure


Failure – it’s a dirty word, isn’t it!

I did ban it for a time in our house because I labelled myself a failure at so many things:

  • parenting
  • cooking
  • studying
  • general adulting
  • cleaning

…OK the cleaning one is pretty accurate, but the others…well I may not be brilliant but I’m not a failure.

What is failure?

But what happens when you really can’t do something? When it’s got you completely stumped? How do YOU cope with failure? How does your child cope with failure?

Winston Churchill famously said,

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

The trouble is, failure hurts!

Why does failure sting so much?

I am a strong advocate for Positive Parenting. That is, I actively look for the good things my children are doing, and compliment them for it.

When they’re clonking each other on the head with Barbies not being so good, rather than focusing on the negative behaviour, I remind them what they should be doing instead.

It has been an extremely effective approach to parenting in our house, and keeps the general mood of the house calmer and more upbeat.

We seek to build our children up and promote self confidence.

Unfortunately, there comes a point when children realise that they are not the best at everything.

Whereas I dish out my praise based on the individual child (i.e. I may praise Charis, 1, for mark making, but from Jenny, 5, I would expect a picture first), the world is not so kind. If you are not achieving the same standard as someone else, you are inferior… and that stings!

The handstand saga

Some things never change – I remember summer school playtimes being filled with scores of girls in blue and white checked dresses doing handstands on the grass. And now my daughter is in school and the tradition continues.

The trouble is, Jenny can’t do handstands.

She gives it a jolly good try, slamming her hands into the ground and flailing her legs up behind her. But the truth is, her feet barely get 6 inches off the floor! I thought this was a pretty good for a first attempt and duly praised her efforts. But she’s beginning to notice that the other children at school are better at it than she is.

What should I say? I’ve tried pointing out that most of the other children are older than she is… But not all of them are. I’ve tried to coach her a bit to improve her technique… But it hasn’t helped.failure handstand beach

But maybe I’m going about this all wrong.

Maybe failure is needed

Everybody fails. It is an inevitable part of life. Nobody can be the best at everything. And when we fail, there are two options – we can either give up, or try again.

Jenny may not be the best hand-stander. But what can she learn from this revelation? Can I turn this disheartening situation around?

  • I could guide her to appreciate and admire the skills that other people have
  • I could train her to congratulate her friends on their successes
  • I could prompt her to ask for their help in improving her own technique
  • I could encourage her to do handstands because she enjoys doing them, rather than worrying about comparing herself to others
  • I could help her to assess how much she wants to handstand and whether she wants to invest her time in learning how, or not
  • I could teach her about the importance of practising and working hard to achieve her goals
  • I could remind her of all the other gifts she has and coach her not to define herself by her limitations

 

I can’t protect her from failure, and I certainly won’t be purposefully setting her up to fail. But when the inevitable happens, I don’t need to panic. Failure is not the end of it. Failure is a place to learn new lessons. Failure is an opportunity for me to praise her again; praise for being gracious in defeat, praise for learning from mistakes, praise for getting up and trying again, praise for being wise in walking away.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

 

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47 Comments

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  1. 1
    justsayingmum

    I LOVE this post. You’re so right – failure is not the end – I think it is a fab starting point for anything we try. My daughter is in a very public world and with that comes an awful lot of failure – but she has become so immune to rejection that it has made her so much stronger than my other 2 children – I certainly feel that it is a good thing for a child so that they learn to be gracious in not winning, gracious in trying again – a much more beautiful child x lovely post #DreamTeam

  2. 3
    teacuptoria

    LOVE this post. I spent my childhood being good at everything then when my marriage failed I fell to pieces. It’s taken me a long time to get over that failure and I’m training myself that failures mean you are trying really hard at life. My second marriage has just failed too and I’m far stronger about things this time round so it’s true that mistakes and failures are there for a reason. Tor x #DreamTeam

    • 4
      Lucy At Home

      I’m the same – as a child I did very well at school so I didn’t experience much failure. I’ve had to learn that as an adult and it’s much harder then because the consequences of not succeeding are much bigger. I’m glad you liked the post. I’ve been following your blog and you really seem so very strong and a real inspiration! Thank you for commenting. L

  3. 5
    Fridgesays

    Love this, particularly love the bullet points of how you could advise her. There is one sentence missing ‘ Jenny can’t do handstands YET’ but with effort and determination she’ll get there. If she understands that and can apply it Jenny should be booked it for 2028 Olympics

  4. 7
    Sarah@teammomlife

    What a beautifuly wise post! I also try to stay positive in my parenting style but I see what you mean about how that could make it hard to cope with failure. What a hard thing to deal with even as an adult.

    It sounds like you have some wonderful ideas about what she can learn from not being great at hand stands. Which I think can be fun but tricky to master.

    Thanks for linking up with #Dreamteam and hope you come back next week!

    • 10
      Lucy At Home

      Oh I think that’s a lovely school value to have. Resilience is a life skill. I think there is also bravery and wisdom in knowing when to walk away too, though. That’s something I’m not very good at – as a perfectionist, I generally view walking away from anything as a failure, but it can actual be a good move as it opens new doors and opportunities. Thank you for commenting. L

  5. 16
    Honest mum

    A wise post and it really can be so hard, especially on our kids who simply want to do the best they can and there’s no harm in that but it’s important they learn, as we do that failure is OK, it’s more than OK for when we fail, we learn and grow and ultimately succeed x

    • 17
      Lucy At Home

      Yup you are sooo right! As parents, we have the tricky job of helping our kids to have a healthy relationship with failure; one that will set them up for life! Thank you for leaving a comment. L

  6. 18
    Themotherhub

    Interesting post – my son , 6, does not handle losing well, and I have no idea how to deal with it. I try and give him a few encouraging words and move on – not sure it’s working wonders but it’s something we all have to deal with ! I need to find some way of teaching him to deal with the emotions he feels on losing. God, parenting is complicated! #brillblogposts

  7. 20
    natalie

    Positive parenting is so important. My 5 year old is so hard on herself all the time if she cant do something straight away, we also have the handstand issues (I could never do them) !! I tell her with lots of practice and hard work she will get there – as that is what life is – hard work, nothing comes easy to everyone. A lovely post. #bloggerclubuk

  8. 22
    Lins @ Boo & Maddie

    I love this so much and your suggestions about what to do with failure are really, really great. On my train into work this morning I was reading a couple of book reviews about parenting – no idea why since we don’t have children. But as I’m surrounded by nieces and nephews, godchildren and friends with children, I think I have an a kind of objective view and my worry is always about if you don’t acknowledge ‘failure’ (and perhaps turn it into a positive in the ways you have suggested), then how will the children cope in the adult world where they don’t get that job they go for, a relationship breaks up or something goes wrong. Because as much as it’s not a nice world, failure exists and happens to all of us. If children aren’t prepared for that then it will be difficult to cope when it happens. But exactly as Churchill said, it’s how we deal with it, grow and move on X #PoCoLo

    • 23
      Lucy At Home

      I think it’s a really important lesson to learn. As parents, it can be really difficult watch your kids fail and you just want to shield them from it all but, as you say, it is part of life. And learning how to deal with it effectively is vital. Thank you for commenting. L

    • 25
      Lucy At Home

      I think we all need this training! That’s why parenting is so tricky – we’re trying to teach lessons to our kids that we still haven’t fully learnt ourselves! Thank you for commenting. L

  9. 26
    Kat

    I like the phrase ‘FAIL – First Attempt In Learning’ and I think that’s a great message to give to others, especially kids. Really useful post here with some great advice. #marvmondays

  10. 28
    Cherry @ The Newby Tribe

    What a great post! I try very hard to tell my kids that failure is a great thing, it means you have another chance to try again, and you now know how not to do something! That’s not a bad thing! If the kids say ‘I can’t do it’ we always add ‘You can’t do it…yet!’. It is so important the kids (and adults!!) are able to see failure as a positive so they can become resilient – I’m hoping my kids are more resilient than me when they grow up!

    • 29
      Lucy At Home

      Yes that’s my hope too – I want my kids to be more resilient than me. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and pass the lessons I’ve learnt onto my kiddies. Thank you for leaving a comment. L

  11. 30
    Mrs H

    This is such an inspiring post and really interesting too. My daughter is three and she has just started pre-school. She is going to begin to realise that there are other children who are better at doing things than she is. She is going to stumble and fail. But failure is an important lesson. How we react to failure defines us as people and so you are right that we should use it as an opportunity to teach and encourage our children. Hugs Lucy xxxx PS I can’t believe that handstands in the playground is still a thing. I used to be rubbish and barely got off the ground. At first, it upset me. But then I learnt to laugh it off and I used to fall onto the floor in ever more dramatic fashions to be funny. xxxx #MarvMondays

  12. 32
    Kaye

    I agree. Failure is probably something we need to thrive. As long as we handle it the right way, good can come off it. Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo

  13. 37
    Tracey Abrahams

    I agree that failure is an inevitable part of life and learning to deal with it a vital life skill. I remember when my kids were at primary school they stopped doing competitive sports day because they didn’t want any of the kids to feel like losers. This was very unpopular with the parents because it teaches kids nothing about real life. #blogcrush

  14. 38
    Carmela

    Another wonderful post, Lucy! Good sportsmanship, perseverance, patience, being happy for others…all of those things are character traits that we want to develop in ourselves and in our children. #blogcrush

  15. 39
    Enda Sheppard

    Like others here, I think resilience, or “bouncebackability”, a word I read today in another context, is hugely important. It’s the effort and enthusiasm that counts more. And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try … and then, maybe, try something else! #BklogCrush

  16. 40
    Sara @ Magical Mama Blog

    Oh this is so beautifully written and so easily forgotten on a daily basis. It is so hard not to shelter your kids from anything negative happening to them, but you don’t want them to be hit by reality for the first time when they leave your home. Thank you for the reminder to let them fail and learn!
    #BlogCrush

  17. 42
    Carol Cameleon

    Failure is hard lesson to learn when you’re 8. Our 8yo can’t do a handstand either and for that reason, she doesn’t want to join the gym/dance club. I’ve encouraged her to practice and slowly her confidence is building but the point is that she can’t do it yet. Her maturing mind is learning to deal with it and it’s one of life’s lessons. A necessary lesson. She can play violin though and passed her copper award, which not all of her friends can do. Swings and roundabouts… #BlogCrush

  18. 43
    Older Mumma

    Great post Lucy, i love this. So much emphasis now days is on making sure all children feel like winners but we must teach them to be good at failing too. Great techniques i will definitely be reflecting back on this as DD gets older. #BlogCrush

  19. 44
    Daydreams of a Mum

    This is such an important post . My youngest hates sports day because she can’t run fast or throw a beanbag far so doesn’t get a medal. I always take the I point out how if it were writing stories or maths or being kind she’d get a medal and she takes it very well these days. HOWEVER I am an absolute hypocrite because I hate not being able to do things well , I think I hide my competitive streak well though as none of my lot are like it !!! #blogcrush

  20. 45
    Toni

    I couldn’t agree more. Of course I want my child to be successful, but she also needs to have her own mistakes and failures to learn and hopefully find it in herself to push for better. I needed to read this and pinned it to read it again as my kids grow up. #blogcrush

  21. 46
    Liberty Henwick

    Yes, i agree wholeheartedly, failure produces perseverence which is such a valuable life skill. It’s important too to try as parents to be there for them when that failure happens as much as we are able. I love that Winston Churchill quote and your bullet points are very helpful as every situation and child is so different. #blogcrush

  22. 47
    Lisa Pomerantz

    I so agree with everything you say, Lucy. Failure is the entry to a new beginning and mistakes are beautiful! Glorious actually. They are the place of the best, most meaningful learning. xoxo #blogcrush xo

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