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Teaching Kids to Learn from Failure

Amy Mikler

Big Sibs, Big Inferiority Complex

Nico Botticelli of San Diego is 2 years old, but wants to do all the same things as his 4-year-old brothers, Gabriel and Reese. “He'll try to climb on their bikes, then he's sad because he can't reach the pedals. Or do a puzzle with them, but can't make the pieces fit. When he realizes he can't keep up, sometimes he'll cry and stomp his feet and shout ‘I DO IT!’” says his mom, Laureen.

From hot mess to success: Botticelli does her best to provide toddler versions of things the big bros like—say, a ride-on toy for Nico to enjoy while Gabriel and Reese are biking. She'll also sometimes adjust their schedule so he won't feel as overwhelmed: “I'll say to his brothers, ‘OK, guys, let's do something that all of us like till Nico's nap,’” she says. She also makes a point of letting Nico practice puzzles and other skills while his sibs are in preschool: “Sometimes it's easier for him to try when they're not around,” Botticelli says. “Sometimes they'll say ‘You're too little to do this!’ and then he gets discouraged.”

Extra tips from the experts: It's smart of Botticelli to give Nico opportunities to attempt new stuff without his big brothers refereeing. “Older siblings will sometimes assume a parentlike role, telling the younger child what he can or can't do, or doing it for him. When that happens, it's fine to say ‘I'm the mom, let me handle this,’” says Briggs.

When Botticelli makes mistakes of her own, she can model how to handle them in stride, too (“Oops, I just dropped my ice cream cone!”). “The key is to normalize failure so your child knows he's not the only one who doesn't get things right on the first try,” Epstein says.