Teaching Children How to Fail

we don’t have the skills to get back up, we may not risk falling.” Brene

We can’t expect our children to do more with their lives if they do not
know how to fail. And failing is a skill, which means it can be learned. Here’s
what to do.

and failing is as much a part of life as breathing is. Even those of us who
avoid risk at all costs are perhaps taking the biggest risk of all. That we do
nothing and achieve nothing!

who are struggling can be so scared to fail an exam, lose a friend or scrape a
knee that they work to avoid anything that could cause them hurt – emotionally,
physically and socially. They can live protected lives filled with anxiety and
fear and pain. In Brown’s book, Dare to Lead, she uses skydiving as a metaphor.
When you first go skydiving the instructors start with teaching you how to
fall. You spend a lot of time learning and practicing how to fall, and what to
do if your parachute fails. It makes sense, they can’t teach you that after you
have jumped out the aircraft. So why do we not teach our children in the
same way?

Learning and Intervention Centre we teach children how to fall and how to get
back up. And you can too. Here are my tricks, exclusively for those of you who
visit us on social media often.

Read the
TIP and just do it. Or carry on to read the explanation below each tip for a
bit of the HOW and the WHY.



STEP #1 – encourage them to come to you when they

Children need to know that they can DO something
when they fall or fail.

You will
have to use your judgement here, but 9/10 times you can calmly catch their
gaze, hold their gaze to reassure them that they are not in this alone, and
encourage them to get up and come to you. The ‘getting up’ is very important.

(Does it go without saying that broken bones, spurting blood and
imminent danger should not be treated in this way? Maybe not, but now I have
said it.)

Why get them to come to you?

They get
to learn that they have the ability and enough inner wisdom and strength to get
up and help themselves.

In the
beginning, you may have to meet them halfway, but use all of your loving
parenting powers to keep them moving. You want forward motion. They must
be leaning towards the solution, rather than physically (and emotionally)
staying STUCK. If they flat refuse to move, look for even the smallest possible
movement towards you. Even if it is just them raising their hands to be picked

works just as well when they fail a test or fight with their friends. I’ll get
into that a bit later.

interesting note here: one of the predictors of ‘okayness’ as they grow older,
is if they can anticipate and move towards something. In young
children, that can be seen as noticing when someone is about to engage with
them and they respond. No response is often a cause for concern. It could be a
hearing impairment or even a cognitive delay. Though, we have to believe that
when a skill isn’t at first present, that it can be mediated so that it becomes
present in a child. This is why MOVEMENT in the face of difficulty must be

This is
also why over-parenting is such a big deal for therapists. Children who are
over-protected lose their ‘okayness’, they lose the willingness to respond to
the world.

Learning and Intervention Centre, we do this when they actually fall and hurt
themselves, but we also do this with academics and with emotional
falls. Children can transfer skills across their life, so if they learn to come
and get help when they have been hurt on the playground, they can also learn
how to get help when they don’t understand something in class, or when they are
being bullied.

Here’s an
academic example. Take a child who got only one sum correct, we want to avoid
that ‘stuckness’ so we dive straight into the work and get really, really
curious. Kids can get stuck in the cycle of shame and guilt. We want to move
away from the berating self-talk they can be prone to, and start moving their
brains in another direction.

We may
set a challenge for some, “Can you find the one thing that you do most
often when you are getting your sums wrong?”
Curiosity is forward
Searching for something is forward movement. Maybe we take a
different approach and ask them to self-mark, this encourages them to look at
the details and think more carefully. These opportunities often bring about the
biggest changes in their thinking, and the feeling of having some control of

Be gentle
with them at first, self-control can be scary when you’ve always had a hand to
hold onto.

TIP #2 – give them choices.

who do not learn from experiences as much as we would like, they can develop
single options for themselves. For example: they might learn from early
on that screaming brings mom rushing in, or that fighting keeps everyone away,
or that pretending it isn’t happening makes the feelings disappear. These
choices come to them when they are little and then stick around, they develop
no other options for reacting or behaving, unless they are taught a new way.

Your job here is to show them another way.

– “You can do this, or you can do that.” This is a really simple way
of showing them that they have more than one option. Start with simple things
like what to wear in the morning, or veggies for dinner. But they have to
choose, they cannot say no to both. This is the introduction to taking
decisive action.

–  “What else do you think you can do next time?” or, in the
moment, you could say, “What else can you do now that would help
you?” I am thinking of times when your kid is stuck up a tree, or realises
that she hasn’t done her homework yet, or hasn’t packed her swimming costume
and you’re already at school.

When you
brainstorm options together it creates possibility thinking. Don’t knock
any idea, have fun with it, and use it as an opportunity to be firm about
things that would not be acceptable. Your kid might say, “I could set his
school bag on fire.” And you could laugh and say that would be funny if it
was a cartoon, but in real life that could cause serious harm and probably get
you expelled. “So what else could you do? Remember you want a different
outcome next time.” No reasonable idea should be taken off the table.

Once you
have a few options (feel free to add some ideas of your own) ask them what they
might try next time, which one sounds like the best option. Leave them with
this thought, try something different and see what happens. The very act
of being curious means that they are, again, moving forward and taking action.
They are no longer STUCK.

TIP #3 – ‘spell’ it out and then practice it

Not all
children learn directly from an experience.  They must get a chance to
play it out, to try it on, to get a feel for this new option they have.

When you
have a few new ideas, do some role-playing. Show them what giving up
looks like in your body: slumped shoulders, droopy eyes, big heavy sighs. The
show them what curiosity looks like in your body: leaning forward, raised
eyebrows, sitting up straight. Now their turn. Ask them how each one feels and
what they think about it. If they say they feel no difference, let that be, it
is not wrong just notice it.

Make it
light and fun, no heavy feelings. Help your child to try a few things out. They
could do extreme-drama and show you what they normally do, but in a more
dramatic way than usual. Then ask them to try THE NEW IDEA. Muscle memory
is a very real thing, what you are trying to do here is to make the new option
feel like a possibility.

can be taught other ways of handling situations. And they can be taught how to
practice them and how to make them part of who they are so that they can use
them whenever they need to. But that means we must allow them to learn. That
takes a bit of parenting courage.

they try THE NEW IDEA the next time, or not, be supportive and curious. You
don’t need the curiosity of a criminal investigator, rather the type of
curiosity that your dog displays when he tilts his head to the side as if to
say, “tell me more, I really care, I’m with you on this.”

TIP #4 – their actions are not who they are, it is
just what they did.

When your
child knocks his milk off the table onto the carpet is something he has done.
When your daughter comes home with only 2 spelling words correct, that is
something she has done. These things don’t define their worth or their value.
When they start to use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’, find a way to question
those statements. What they do and what they achieve are all things that can
change. They are not fixed.

We want
children to be okay with making mistakes, with doing the wrong thing,
even with being naughty at times. We must not make the mistake of thinking that
these actions define them, because if we do that, we seal their destiny and
they become as worthy as we allow them to be.

All behaviour is communication.

If your
anxious child is rude, what does that tell you? Does it mean that they are rude
little ingrates, or does it mean that they were protecting themselves or having
a fight response to feeling overwhelmed?

If your
bright child yells at you for asking about her exam mark, what does that tell
you? Is she a moody teenager, or does it mean she is ashamed and angry with
herself, does she have a fixed mindset?

Talk to
your child about what is going on for them. Listen carefully and with the
intention of understanding them.

For the
young child, talk about the mistake, do not talk about who they are. “You
spilled the milk, that wasn’t great behaviour. Please get the kitchen cloth and
I will show you how to clean it up.” This response is about the action and
it is teaching how to fix a mistake. Don’t fall into the trap of calling them
names, this just makes it truer.

For the
older child, talk about what they did. Have this talk when they do well and
when they don’t do so well. “What did you do. I see that you spent time
studying, so you have that waxed. How did you study the work? Can we think
about other ways of doing that bit for next time?”
Make it about

We can all do something if we can see that something can be done. When we
stop seeing our part in the mistake or the event, or that we have some power
over ourselves to effect the outcome, then we are STUCK.

In summary,

danger of not knowing how to fall and fail, for children who are already
struggling with learning difficulties or medical difficulties, is that they get

need to be taught how to be brave and how to fail. Because part of failing is
getting back up. The 4 Tips I have shared here with you, are actually not tips
about failing at all. They are tips on how to get back up.

that the most powerful thing you can do for a child.

trouble with avoiding falling and failing is that you miss rising and

If you
are brave enough, often enough, you will fall,” Brown says. She goes on to
explain that you can take the risk away, but then you are not being brave
anymore. Falling and failing is inevitable. So we need to teach our kids how to
get back up so that falling isn’t devastating.

So rather
than barricading the house and building a safety bubble for them to walk around
in, why don’t we teach them some skills.

Be brave mom, your kids need you to show them how to get back up!

Lauren Edmunds – Copyright

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Lauren Edmunds

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