4 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Failure

Written by: Melissa Pinn, LMFT

With the Olympics in full swing we have an opportunity to watch so many amazing athletes compete. It's hard to believe that these athletes we're not always at the top of their game,. It would be easy to think that they were born being a master of their sport. It took years of hard work, practice, and many failures for them to have gotten to where they are now; competing in the Olympics. When watching amazing athletes compete children don't see the blood, sweat, and tears that it may have taken for these athletes to get to the Olympics.

I receive many questions from parents asking for help with their kids who are afraid of failing. They only want to engage in things that they know that they can succeed at. Many of these children are afraid of trying due to the fear that they may fail. Failure is such an uncomfortable and intense emotion, it is so much easier to avoid trying when we know failure could be an option. We can help our kids get better at failing by supporting their failures. Here are a few ways to help them fail better:

1. Change Your Thoughts About Failing

Parents are their child's biggest role model. Children are always observing how their parent's respond to the challenges they are faced with and the mistakes they make.

Be mindful when you are faced with a challenge. Do you " freeze" or do you respond with positive self talk to help get through that challenge.

When you make mistakes are you critical of yourself or do you respond with positivity or humor? Talk to your child every night about what mistakes you have made and what you’ve learned from your mistakes. Encourage your child to share their biggest mistake from the day and the learning wisdom they can take away from that mistake.

2.Focus on Effort, Not Ability

Emphasize effort or the process rather than ability or the end product. Every child has different abilities, those abilities are not static. Our abilities change over time, with practice and hard work we can create a strength for what was once a weakness. The focus should not be about getting the trophy or the A+ because of your child's abilities. Rather, highlight the effort, practice, learning strategies, and determination it took to get that A+. This is the essence of grit. Grit is needed to help your child to be able to bounce back, ready to face the next challenge.

3.Conduct the “Worst-Case Scenario” Exercise

Children can be terrified of trying new things. The thought of possibly failing can prevent a child from wanting to try, Work with your child to write down a 3 column list. In the first column write down the worst case scenario, the second column is for the best case scenario, and the third is for the most likely outcome. Help your child brainstorm by asking these questions:
  • If all goes wrong what's the worst thing that can happen?

  • In an ideal world what outcome would you like to happen?

  • What is most likely to happen?

  • What could you do to prevent the worst case scenario from happening?

  • What could you do if the worst case scenario did happen?

This helps your child realize that their fear of failure is possibly ungrounded. They might feel a hit of power and control if they think that there are things that they can do to prevent their worst case scenario from happening.

4.Unleash the Inner Monologue

Most children are unaware that they say things to themselves in their mind. This self talk can be a powerful tool to help your child through a challenge or a failure. Teach your child that they have an inner monologue. Encourage them to be aware of what they are saying to themselves. One way you can do this is by giving them a list of tasks to do. Have them talk to themselves through each task by breaking each task into its' components. For example, if you give your child the task of making a peanut butter sandwich you may encourage them to say " first, I need to get the peanut butter out of the fridge, now I need to find where the bread is, I guess I should toast the bread a little, I need to get a knife to spread the peanut butter...." Help your child to have helpful conversations with themselves by asking them to catch themselves when they are frustrated. Help them think about how they are talking to themselves. Are they being their own worst enemy, criticizing themselves or are they being an encouraging coach? Model using calm self talk when you run up against a problem that challenges you. Your child is more likely to pick up on cues that they observe from their caretakers.
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