When was the last time you failed at something? How did you handle that failure? Were you disappointed? Frustrated? Angry? Did you quit after you failed—or keep trying?
My guess is that you probably don’t like thinking about your failures. I know I don’t. I’m the kind of person who would rather just not try something to avoid failing miserably. I guess that means I have a fear of failure—but I’m not alone.
Why has failure become such a bad word in American culture? Whether or not we like to admit it, we learn more from our failures than our successes. Failing is actually a critical part of the learning process. As Dr. John Orlando explains,
The military understands the benefits of failure and actually gives soldiers tasks that they know will lead to failure at some point as a part of their training. Similarly, pilots are trained on simulators and given a variety of emergency situations until they fail.
A former mentor of mine told a great story about how when he was starting out as a young lawyer, he won several cases in a row. He got cocky, thinking he was great at his job. It wasn’t until he lost his first case that he started learning the essentials of how to really do his job. When he lost, he went to the members of the jury to ask them what he did wrong—and what he could have done better.
I’m raising a child who does not like to fail. He wants to be the best at everything he does. He cries when he loses. He gets angry with himself when he doesn’t understand something the first time.
As a parent, I want to see my children succeed. I want to see them happy. However, I also understand that now is the time for kids to learn the value of failing. Through failing, we are able to self-assess, redirect, and come back to the task with a stronger plan.
Failure Teaches Resilience
An article in Healthy Children Magazine gives a great definition of resilience and expresses its importance:
In today’s environment, children and teens need to develop strengths, acquire skills to cope, recover from hardships, and be prepared for future challenges. They need to be resilient in order to succeed in life.
With that goal in mind, I’d like to offer my own list of activities parents might engage their children in to teach them to overcome failure and strengthen their resilience:
- Go to a ropes course: If you haven’t ever seen a ropes course (sometimes called a challenge course), you might be surprised at how low-tech they seem. You may see telephone poles with ropes strung between them, a low balance-beam-type thing, hanging logs, or some platforms attached to trees. Ropes courses aren’t about fancy equipment (although the *safety* equipment is very fancy—don’t worry!); they’re about challenging what people (and teams) believe about their own abilities. Failure is part of the challenge. It’s what a person does after failing that makes the difference.
- Go Geocaching: Geocaching is an outdoor GPS “treasure hunt” where participants use coordinates to locate hidden caches. While many caches are easy to find, the degree of difficulty varies, meaning that sometimes you’ll fail at finding the cache. This is a great opportunity to talk about what comes after failure; what could we do the next time to be better prepared to locate the cache?
- Play a new sport: There are some people who are just naturally gifted at sports, but for most of us, playing a new sport means we’re going to fail until we figure it out. Some kids are going to want to give up—or may not even want to try—but this is a chance to discuss ways to overcome failure—using different equipment better sized for the participants, more practice, etc.
- Try an outdoor science experiment: Science is all about failing. It’s about trial and error. Even the best planned experiments fail many times before they succeed (if they ever do). This summer, try some outdoor science experiments. Maybe even set your kids up for failure the first time, allowing them the chance to figure out how to make the experiments succeed.
Failure shouldn’t be a bad word. Failure means we’re trying. Failing gets us one step closer to learning something new and teaches us to be resilient. What have you learned from your biggest failures?