5 Reasons You Need to Allow Your Children to Fail

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Have you ever had to stand back, feeling completely helpless, while your child struggled with something very difficult that didn't result in success? I have. My daughter is a dancer. She's determined, competitive, graceful, and talented. She works hard — harder than a child her age should be motivated to work, I sometimes think. And more often than not, her hard work pays off.

But sometimes it doesn't.

Some competitions are better than others. I know very little about dance. This both renders me helpless and gives me the emotional freedom to step back and encourage without interfering. If she has a difficult day on the stage, there is nothing I can do to fix it, save it, or alter the outcome at all. I can encourage, I can listen, I can be her emotional support, but I can't produce a win.

She knows that each time she steps on that stage she takes a risk of sorts. She practices and prepares and always puts forth her best effort, but each time she tries, she risks failing. That's a big concept (and a brave effort) for a little kid.

She recently told me that the hardest part occurs when they line up on stage, but the musicians sit in silence. This is when the judges prepare the necessary paperwork for the competition. It is then that her mind wanders and wonders if she will hit each step correctly. When the music begins, her confidence soars as she hears the steps in the beats of the songs. I stood silent and awestruck as she recounted that feeling.

She faces the possibility of failure and copes with the losses with grace because she knows that she can always try again. She knows that she can do it, even if she has to work a little bit harder or try a new tactic the next time.

She won't give up because she feels happy, confident, and free up on that stage, win or lose. She won't give up because we always step back and let her do her thing. We give her the opportunity to fail with grace.

In her new book, The Gift of Failure, author Jessica Lahey focuses on the critical role failure actually plays in our lives. Through failure, children learn to succeed. Lahey discusses the rise in overparenting and how that affects the social and emotional growth of our children. “Every time we rescue, hover, or otherwise save our children from a challenge,” explains Lahey, “we send a clear message: we believe they are incompetent, incapable, and unworthy of our trust.” Powerful words with an even more powerful message: If we want to help our kids succeed, we have to stop trying to ensure their success for them.

Failure is hard. It leads to frustration, tears, and sometimes an urge to quit. But failure isn't to be feared. Sometimes, kids learn more from their mistakes than they do from their success. When faced with failure, they are forced to employ creative problem-solving skills, try a new strategy, and persevere. “We have taught our kids to fear failure,” says Lahey, “and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success.”

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Lahey's book is packed with nuggets of wisdom on the gifts that failure has to offer and targeted advice for handling the hiccups kids will face along the path to success. Check out these reasons to view failure as a gift.

Creative problem-solving skills

When we step back and let kids fail, they are forced to cope with the struggle. Avoiding the powerful urge to run in for the save affords your child the opportunity to try, try again.

At one point, my daughter struggled with hitting some turns in the right direction during a certain dance. Turning in the wrong direction is the difference between winning and losing in this particular dance. When she got up on stage, she turned on time in the right direction each time. She was proud of herself for solving the problem on her own. Evidently, a few minutes before the dance, she discovered a small crystal on the floor. She held that crystal in the hand of the direction in which she had to turn, and that solved the problem.

Kids are creative problem solvers by nature. They are curious and masters of discovery. Unfortunately, parents sometimes squash this natural curiosity without intention. We do things for them to ensure safety, success, or fewer tears, but we forget that learning from the struggle is part of what builds confidence in the future.

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They learn perseverance

I can't tell you how many parents approach me to discuss quitting. Parents today seem to fear raising a quitter. I get it; you want your kids to follow through on things they start. But piling on the pressure to succeed does not encourage kids to keep trying. In fact, it does the opposite.

When kids sense that success and winning are the most important things, they fear failure and stop trying.

When parents make room for failure, kids learn that it's acceptable to get it wrong sometimes. They also learn to persevere and work through the hard parts.

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They engage in healthy risk taking

We live in a risk-averse world when it comes to our kids. I recently had a grandmother at a park imply that I wasn't adequately watching my 8-year-old because I allowed her to hang upside down from the monkey bars. My daughter pushes herself physically more often than not. She climbs the tallest trees and rides her bike at an alarming speed when she feels like it. That's healthy.

Yes, your kids will fall, get hurt sometimes, lose when they want to win, and experience frustration along the way, but when they work through all of that, they will pick themselves up and try the next thing. That's a good thing. We want our kids to face new challenges with confidence, not avoid new challenges because they might be risky.

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They build coping skills

If you don't let your kids fail, they won't learn how to cope with failure. Life is hard, and obstacles are everywhere. Kids need to learn how to cope with feelings of frustration, failure, and negativity. They need to learn how to work through the hard stuff independently so they can tackle any obstacles that might come their way.

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They build autonomy

The end goal of this parenting gig is raising happy, confident kids who are ready to take on the world on their own. We want our children to be independent. If we want that, we can't hover and fix. We have to let them learn.

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Kids who understand that failure is just a blip on the screen (not a life sentence) are more autonomous. They know that they can figure things out, solve their own problems, and work through the ups and downs that come their way.

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5 Reasons You Need to Allow Your Children to Fail

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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