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Oregon Family Magazine

There’s Nothing Wrong with a Little Failure

04/11/2011 09:08PM ● By Anonymous
From birth to adulthood the idea of failure takes a dramatic turn for the worst! When babies begin trying to hold their heads up, roll over, crawl, pull themselves up and walk they are encouraged to “keep trying” and applauded for each attempt. Do they fail until they ultimately succeed? Absolutely! Are they criticized for failing? Absolutely not! It is understood that they are progressing through a learning process and they are encouraged.

Fast forward to pre-teen years and a less than stellar report card or to the college years with a semester on academic probation. Do you think those students will be encouraged to continue failing until they ultimately get it right? Probably not! What happened? Somewhere from toddlerhood to impending adulthood society sends the message that all learning should have already been completed and success is the only expected outcome. But this idea is not fair, realistic, or correct.

Failure Should Not Be Condemned Most children are taught success is positive and failure is the opposite side of that coin. That failure is to be avoided at all costs. It is this type of tunnel-vision that can lead to serious unhappiness in young adults or to stressed-out workaholic adults as they get older. It can also fuel the need to achieve success through whatever means necessary, legally or not.

If failure does occur children often fear they have disappointed the people they look up to or run the risk of being ostracized by their peers. Failure then becomes a source of stress and anxiety, and can breed a disassociation with trying anything that can remotely result in potential failure. Thus, children can become caught in a state of inaction. This then results in a child never actually failing, due to never really reaching beyond his or her comfort zone. Exactly the opposite trait most parents try to nurture.

Failure is a Good Thing Most children are taught to overcome failure, to learn to strive for perfection or to view failure as a poor performance that should never be repeated. However failure needs to be reevaluated and those negative connotations should be corrected. Failure can be a one of life’s most important gifts.

  • Failure means that someone attempted something despite the possibility of not succeeding. Where would the world be if everyone strove for success and was immobilized due to the potential for failure? Would space travel exist? Or the discoveries made in science, medicine, and technology? How many inventions and discoveries were stumbled upon as the result of a failed hypothesis?
  • Failure should be touted as one of the significant demonstrations of confidence. It takes tons of confidence to step outside of the box and look for an answer to something new, or to try something for the first time. That should be rewarded and recognized as a win for every child.
  • Failure shows that despite achieving an outcome different from what was expected, the process can be viewed as a chance to study what went wrong and to learn from it. Perhaps the next time the desired outcome will result from the information gained from the first attempt. In this case failure can build tenacity. Being able to stick to a task until it is completed is an excellent character trait.
  • Failure is also a good way to develop competence, balance and coping skills. The world can be cruel and children must learn that they will face adversity. It is unrealistic to expect everything to go one’s way. While it would be wonderful to be good at everything, life doesn’t work that way. Children should learn how to face failure, accept it, and even be gracious about it. Adults who have learned how to deal with failure are typically better equipped to handle life’s events.
How to Flip the Switch on Failure It starts with the adults. So many adults have been pushing children to eliminate failure from their repertoires in order to become competent workers and successful business people. However, big businesses are finally beginning to recognize the value in failure. Instead of being criticized for disappointing their bosses, many of today’s workers are being praised for taking initiative, for being forward-thinkers, and for using past endeavors as learning experiences to spearhead new business ideas. In essence they are being taught to view failures as tools that can breed success, rather than like an ax ready to chop down the rungs on their corporate ladders.
  • Parents should help children realize failure is simply not reaching a desired outcome at that particular point in time. It does not mean a precedence or history has been established. They possess the tools to reach the goal and can use the “failure” as a lesson to help them get there. Ask how it could have been done differently, of why the result occurred.
  • Parents should stress that everyone fails. Failure is not a one-time occurrence and cannot and should not be avoided. People who avoid failure typically never reach their full potential because they’d rather be correct than experiment with the unknown. Demonstrate ways to try new things, like foods, sports, books, movies, etc. The child may not like the item (a failure), but point out his or her success at not shying away from a new experience.
  • Encouragement can go a long way towards helping children rethink the failure myth. Praise them for being receptive to attempting the task. Encourage them to try it again. Discuss the thought process and help them create a plan of attack that may produce the desired outcome. Parents should be sure to highlight their failures, as well as their successes. They can show children that they will survive their failures and can even thrive as a result. Failure fosters resilience.
  • Parent should also try to help children reach their goals and not set them up for an insurmountable failure by making them reach too far beyond their abilities. Children’s capabilities grow daily. Challenges are great learning tools, but impossibilities at their current age and/or skill level could make a child less apt to take that leap of faith down the road.
Adults should try to remember failure is not a character flaw. Failure can help children grow to become successful in every way imaginable. Failure is not a hindrance, but a motivator. Children should be taught to view failure as a tool used to help one develop and improve upon one’s life skills.

Kim Green-Spangler is a freelance writer, columnist, research specialist, budding author, wife and mother. She has written hundreds of articles on topics specific to women and moms, exercise enthusiasts, small and home-based business owners and homeschoolers. She can be contacted at