The key to success is failure

Teach your child to value hard work and problem-solving by working through their failures.

Kid standing back up

No one is great at something the first time they try it. Success comes from hard work, practice and, yes, even failure. When young children are learning to walk they have to fall down again and again and again in order to master the balance they need to stand upright (and even then, they will still fall down). When learning to feed themselves, tie their shoes or master long division, children have to try, practice and learn from their missteps and try again in order to master their new skills. You can help your child learn from their failures and use those failures to work towards great successes.

Michigan State University Extension suggests the following ways to help your child learn to succeed through failure.

Encourage your child to take risks and try new things. Trying new things can be scary, especially if we are worried that if we try, we will ultimately fail. Give your child encouragement to try things outside of their comfort zone, and attempt things they might not be good at right away. By taking risks and trying new things, your child can overcome their fear of failing and learn that when you take risks, you learn so many new things and practice new skills.

Emphasize your child’s efforts. Not every effort will result in success. When your child is trying to draw a unicorn for the first time, it likely won’t be a perfect picture. This may be discouraging for your child, but try focusing on emphasizing their efforts. You can talk about their work they put into the project, “You worked so hard on this drawing. You tried something new, you did your best! I’m proud of you for working so hard!” Remind your child that great things happen over time; even famous artists start with a rough draft.

Teach problem-solving skills. Failure often makes us feel stuck and can make someone feel like giving up. Teach your child that through hard work and effort, you can work to solve problems. If they are trying to learn a new skateboarding trick and they just can’t seem to pick it up, help them think about what they can do to solve their problem. Is there someone who knows that trick who can help them? Can they watch a video on YouTube that will help them figure out what they need to do differently? Help your child think about what they can do to keep working and trying.

Value hard work. Show your child that you value hard work by noticing it happen all around you. Notice those who work hard around you and in your child’s life. Point out the construction workers who are working hard in rain to repair the roads. Write a thank-you note to your mail carrier who works extra hard during the holiday season to help deliver gifts and goodies. Showing gratefulness and appreciation for those that work hard will show your child that hard work is to be valued.

Engage in self-praise. When children hear you praise yourself, they learn to do the same. Show off your hard work and that you can be proud of yourself for not giving up on tasks that are hard. When you work hard, say out loud, “I’m so proud of myself! I was having a hard time figuring out how to fix the TV, but I kept trying and I did it! Go me!”

Help your child adopt a growth mindset. Show your young child that making mistakes and failing is normal and something that happens to everyone. It means you tried something new. Failure doesn’t mean an ending—it’s just the beginning. You can teach your child to be a hardworking problem solver that can turn their failures into successes.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2017 impact report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2017, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.


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