Hey, Kids, It’s OK to Fail

As a parent, there is nothing better than watching your child succeed at something. What mom or dad doesn’t relish the look of pure joy and accomplishment on the face of their child when they tell you that they nailed that exam, made the team, or got the job? Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that there will also be a lot of times when those things might not happen.

Take sports, for instance. Think of how many kids play sports in grade school. Now, funnel that down to when they go to high school and jump into the pool with all the other schools. Then there’s college, where even more people enter the top of the funnel from various high schools. Now, count up how many professional sports teams there are and the number of players on those teams and figure out the odds of a kid succeeding at making it to the highest level. According to the NCAA, those odds are very low.

Accepting a Different Path

Speaking of sports, let me tell you a story from my own experience of failure. When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for my high school’s soccer team. I worked my butt off conditioning, training, practicing, anything I could do to try to make the team. But guess what? I didn’t. I was devastated.

What my parents did afterward, though, was what made a big impact on me and formed my outlook moving forward even to this day. Sure, they comforted me and allowed me to wallow in my self-pity for a while. But then they asked me what I was going to do now that I wasn’t going to be playing soccer. Was I going to let my defeat define me, or was I going to regroup and rise above this slight detour in my plans?

Our kids need to know that they’re not always going to win or get straight As. And that’s OK.

I, of course, bristled at the parental advice I was, after all, a teenager but then decided to pick myself up and make the best of the situation. I signed up to be the team manager and it was a great experience. I was a part of the team, even though it wasn’t in the way that I originally had hoped. In fact, members of the team and I talk about my antics as manager to this day. So, no, I didn’t succeed at my original goal, but I did succeed.

I suspect you would be hard-pressed to find someone without a story of having to pick himself or herself back up after failing at something. It’s part of life. And hard as it is, we need to find a way to accept it, pick ourselves up from it, and move forward.

Letting Our Kids Fail

As a parent, that message is one I have been very deliberate in trying to instill in my kids. When my son came to me last year discouraged because he got a C on a test, I asked him two questions: “Do you feel that you worked hard to prepare yourself? ” and “Did you try your best? ” When he answered yes to both, I told him that was all I cared about. In fact, I was silently pleased with that C. School has always come easy for him, with very little effort. It was good for him to finally have to work hard, even if that meant getting a C.

Our kids need to know that they’re not always going to win or get straight As. And that’s OK. It’s what they do with those experiences that matters. I know that might not be the most popular thing a mom can say, but I firmly believe that it’s true. We all want our kids to succeed at everything. But the chances are really great that they won’t. What they do when they fall short of the goal line is where we parents need to step up. In a time when everyone gets a trophy or ribbon despite the outcome, we need to let our kids fail sometimes. At some point, there won’t be any more participation ribbons. Our job as parents is to help our kids be OK with that.

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