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Preparing Your Child for Failure

“Failure” was used to grab your attention – was it successful? I was certain it would be because from the moment you even consider having children, you started to think about how to best set them up for success and protect them from hurt and failure.

Now that I have your attention, I must switch out the word “Failure” for “Learning Experiences” – because that is exactly what they are. Every time we “fail”, we learn something which we will use when trying again. Rather than protecting our children from failure, it is our job to help them learn how to manage these experiences and the big feelings that tend to come along with them.

So how do we help our children manage these “learning experiences”?  Let’s start with Modeling. From the moment your child is born they are watching you to learn about the world. Your child needs to see you “fail” to learn from you about how to handle this experience. This is good news for caregivers because – as all parents know – there is no such thing as a “perfect parent”. Luckily, you will have many “learning experiences” throughout your child’s life, allowing for ample opportunity to model how to best handle hardship. You are modeling that we can feel frustrated and upset about failing and that we can take a deep breath, turn to someone for help, and try again. How you model managing your feelings is the foundation on which your child will start to build their ability to manage their own.

Second, is how we react to them when they have their own “learning experiences”. “Failing” is hard! And it evokes big and uncomfortable feelings in our children. It is quite natural to want to stop these difficult feelings. However, when we stop feelings by distracting our children out of them or try to “fix” the problem, children will not build the skills to manage these big emotions on their own. You need to prepare your child for failures by allowing them to experience challenges and be there to help co-regulate their emotions – even when these big feelings make us feel uncomfortable. When our children are frustrated and may be tantruming, whining, pouting, yelling, or crying, rather than stopping them, let them know that you understand that they are having a hard time and that you are there to help them with these feelings- “I know it is hard when we do not win. I can see that you are really upset and I am here for you”. When you communicate a sentiment like this, your child starts to learn that they are not alone in their big feelings, that you are there to help them through it. The more experiences they have with you helping them co-regulate, the less uncomfortable the feelings are, and the more likely they will be able to manage these feelings on their own when they have to.

Last, but not least, is Delight! Delight is the sister of praise. Praising our children when they do well or accomplish something is a great practice, however, it should not be done exclusive of delight. Delight is when we let our children know that we love them and that they are special for just being who they are. This means that they do not have to be accomplishing or doing well to know that they are special and loved  – because they will fail, they will struggle, and when they do they need to know that they are still a worthwhile individual. Delighting in our children is the foundation for self worth. It is their core belief that they are worth it regardless of whether they are succeeding or not. If they can “fail” and have an internal belief that they are still awesome, they will be more likely to get up, dust themselves off, and try again. So make sure to let your child know that they are wonderful for who they are, in both the good times and the bad times.

Modeling, Co-Regulation, and Delight – the building blocks for helping your children make “failures” into “learning experiences”. This may sound easy to do, but it is a lot harder than it sounds. Just remember, it is okay if you do not do this perfectly – just treat it as an opportunity to model working through this “learning experience”!

The Community Early Years Partnership disseminates information about and promotes optimal infant and early childhood development to healthcare providers, community partners, parents and caregivers.


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