4 Tips for Helping Kids Cope with Failure

Image via Katie Hurley

Kids face failure on a regular basis. It might be a spelling test full of red marks; it might be a soccer game that ends in a loss; or it might be a friendship that slips away. For some kids, failure feels huge and overwhelming. For others, it’s simply a bump in the road. Either way, when kids learn to turn mistakes into opportunities, they become more resilient.

Kids get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Some cry,  some yell, and some simply run off and hide.

There is a lot to be gained from failure. Sometimes, great ideas emerge from failed first attempts. But that’s a difficult concept for little kids to grasp, and many children tend to be perfectionists (with low frustration tolerance). 

It takes time and patience to help kids learn to cope with failure, but building resilience is crucial for little kids.

4 Tips for helping kids cope with failure:

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Normalize it:

Kids get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Some cry,  some yell, and some simply run off and hide. Like it or not, mistakes and failure are part of life. Kids of all ages (and adults!) face failure and disappointment at various times.

Normalize it for your kids. Talk about the fact that people fail quite often. Discuss professional athletes, artists, everyday heroes, and other people that inspire your child. Don’t forget to talk about your own mistakes and failures that you've had along the way. Your kids look up to you, and hearing that you’ve failed at times gives them hope. If you can overcome that kind of frustration, they can, too.

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When you empathize with your children, they feel less alone. Share how it felt when you dealt with a similar situation as a child. Talk about how it felt to cope with disappointment, frustration, and sadness.

Kids sometimes feel alone in their emotions. When parents meet them where they are and empathize in the moment, they feel supported and understood.  

A father playfully throwing his son up into the air while lying on a sofa
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Reframe it:

Once your child is calm, reframe the situation by looking for the silver lining. Sure, that block tower came crashing down without warning, but now you can build something even better. Maybe your child didn’t score a goal in the soccer game, but he did learn the importance of teamwork.

Kids tend to get stuck in the moment, so when we take the time to help them talk through the possibilities that exist even when failure occurs, we show them the importance of focusing on the positive.  

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Make a plan:

Part of the frustration and disappointment that results from failure is that children feel like they have no control over the situation. 

Sit down together and make a plan. Too often, parents expect their kids to come up with all of the solutions, but when you’re overwhelmed with emotion, it can be hard to think logically. Work through it together. Talk about what did and didn’t work. Brainstorm ideas for the next time. Help your child learn that working together and asking for help can lead to future success.

How does your child respond to failure? What has helped him or her to cope? 

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4 Tips for Helping Kids Cope with Failure

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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