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Teaching Kids to Learn from Failure

Amy Mikler

You've coddled, cuddled, and cooed. Now it's time to let your kid get his first hard knocks—here's why it's actually the kindest thing you can do.

What's the F word you're always shielding your child from? Well…OK, yeah, that one, for starters. (And boy, you came up with it quickly—how much Jersey Shore do you watch, anyway?) But actually, we're thinking of a different F word right now: “failure.” Because what's more important than protecting your little one from situations in which he feels he doesn't measure up?

Turns out there is something more important—and that's to go ahead and let him experience a letdown or two. Yes, believe it or not, a little bit of defeat can be a stepping-stone to triumph. “Think of the things you learn when you encounter and move beyond failure,” observes child psychologist Rahil Briggs, Psy.D., director of the Healthy Steps program at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, NY. “You learn how to tolerate frustration, how to get creative and take different approaches to tasks, and also how to ask for help—all things that are necessary for long-term success in life.”

If that's true, why do so many of us try to eliminate failure from our kids' adventures? Ashley Merryman, coauthor of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, says it's because we have the mistaken idea “that children are very fragile and that any bad outcome they experience, no matter how big or small, could damage their developing self-esteem.” But, she adds, “science has proven that it's just not true. Achievement builds self-esteem, not the other way around.” The takeaway: Bring on the fallen block towers and food spills! The scenarios that follow are ones you're sure to come up against. Here's how to handle them with aplomb when you do.