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Teaching Kids to Learn from Failure

Amy Mikler

Fed Up

You've got a toddler? Oh yeah, Mama, you're gonna have some feeding fails, like the ones that sometimes happen at Goldina Erowele's house. “My husband and I will gather around our table with our eight-year-old twin girls and our two-year-old, Chizara, for a breakfast of oatmeal,” says Erowele, of Missouri City, TX. But Chizara can sometimes find the meal, well, grueling: “She gets frustrated with trying to scoop her oatmeal. She'll aim for her mouth, but then she'll fumble and it will go all over her,” Erowele says.

From hot mess to success: “My husband is a softie, and he'll try to help the baby,” Erowele says. “But I'm not as fast to rescue her. I say, ‘It's OK, Chizara! You can do it! Try again!’ I noticed that just this past Saturday, she had a little bit more confidence.”

Extra tips from the experts: By being a cheerleader—not a feeder—Erowele's on the right track, says Robert Epstein, Ph.D., a research psychologist who's studied success and failure extensively. “You want to be supportive without rushing to do everything for her, since this is a task she can only learn through trial and error.” Of course, you don't want your child to go hungry either, adds Renée Leff, an Encino, CA—based marriage and family therapist who specializes in infant-child mental health. “If she really isn't getting much into her mouth, and is becoming very distressed after a few minutes of trying, it's time to help her guide the spoon or to switch to another food like dried cereal that she can pick up with her fingers,” she says.

No matter what, expect a mess. Don't fuss over the splashes and splatters: “Your child will absorb your expectations [if not the oatmeal],” Leff warns. Keep encouraging her, and eventually she'll feed herself flawlessly—or at least as well as your Great-Uncle Sydney.