Allow Kids to Fail … and Watch them Grow

Lynn Schreiber
Following on from our Life Skills for Kids post, Dinah Turner, mum of three children under ten and director of Stepping into Business describes why we need to let our kids fail …

How are you doing today? Are you winning? Are you losing?  Does it matter?

As parents we are challenged so much to fit everything we need to do into the day. We have a list as long as both arms of jobs to do – for ourselves, for others, and of course all the stuff we have to do for our beloved offspring. On top of this, we must manage work, relationships and our own health!

It’s like a moving and changing interactive tube map in our minds, where we have a different line for everything that is going on. And there is no shortage of line outages that throw everything else into disarray: an illness; a late meeting; a car breakdown or waiting at home for a boiler repair. These all only serve to throw the streamlined organization some new challenges to overcome.

Our children, too, are living a busy and hectic life. We are determined to give them every opportunity to succeed, and we want to expose them to as many experiences as we possibly can. Just in case that experience reveals a great talent, leading to great success, their future gold medal! They are building their network, having play dates and trying their hand at being Olympic Pentathletes!


Are you running young children from pillar to post, after school activities, sports, while cramming in homework, times tables, spellings and that vital 20 minutes of reading a day? Are you the one putting their homework into their bags, checking their football kit is there and rescuing them with a last minute dash to the school office with a forgotten ukulele?


Have a go at letting them fail. Stop being a safety net. Really, step away. I dare you. It’s really important.

Change and innovation happens from getting the wrong results

Our education and protective parenting won’t support the real skills our children need, unless we try something new. We are at risk of instilling a sense of success based on getting the ‘right result’ in so many aspects of our lives, from exams, to being on teams, to keeping busy. We are modelling these all the time to our children and we are also managing them to be ‘fail safe’.

Failing is OK

Change and innovation happens from the wrong results. It’s the unexpected consequence, the trial and error, and the surprise that opens up possibility.

Success can lose it’s value as special and worth the effort if it is all we expect, and it can lead to stress and pressure, driving the wrong behaviour in ourselves and our children. Instead learning to cope with things not going well is critical to our development and character.

We need to learn how it feels to let people down, to be late and suffer the consequences, to not get full marks and understand how we will respond to that. So, that next time we have the emotional memory of the event and we can adjust and create a new behaviour that allows us to do it better, if we choose to. We need to learn to give ourselves the right level of pressure and intrinsic impetus to do something – not for that to be an external motivation.

Of course – we know this.

But, it can be hard to face the disapproving looks or a frown when they are late and don’t have things they need. Does this make you a bad parent? No! On the contrary.

Children need support  – educational psychologists call it scaffolding: to allow them to reach their potential. And as parents we are here to advise our children, to support them, to provide them with tips to help them along the way, but this needs to be at the right level to allow them their own freedom to experiment and make decisions.

We want desperately to advise our children from our own learning and failures – but that doesn’t work does it? Do you remember your parents telling you you’d need a coat or that those friends weren’t good for you? Did you pay any attention? Nope – you just learnt the hard way.

The Value in Failure

In the US, the Venture Capitalist model is based on how many failed businesses you have had, you are more likely to receive investment if you have failed and have learnt from it than have had a success. There is incredible value in failure, and in the learning to bounce back and try something else.

We all learn to balance and ride a bike through trial and error – we learn to swim through trial and error – we find our life partners through trial and error… probably!

We know as adults when we look back that we are learning from everything – and most importantly – learning to learn is vital, – Metacognition (awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes).

We need to allow children to feel safe failing – if that means the homework doesn’t go in checked and rechecked to assure a good result – let it happen. If that means letting them see that spending £1 on a bag of sweets makes them feel sick – try it out.

If you get funny looks – simply say, “I am helping them develop their metacognition skills!” You are doing a good job. Keep learning how to learn and it’ll be worth it!

Let’s teach reflection and response to build resilience. As parents we all really need to step back a little, let them fall down or fail. Then watch as they pull themselves up and walk away with a swagger, a grin and a head filled with a new found knowledge of when things go a bit wonky they have the tools to try to put it right themselves.


SteppingintoBusiness_Wilmslow Grange Market Day_1


Stepping into Business

DSC_9188Dinah’s company  Stepping into Business connects schools and businesses and creates fun enterprise programmes, bringing learning to life for children and young people. Children who take part in their programmes build confidence and learn life skills, such as managing money, problem solving and thinking positively.

“Through Stepping into Business, I work with children in schools across the UK developing life skills and an early awareness of the world beyond school using play and games. The games allow children to fail in a comfortable environment – that doesn’t mean we cushion the blows – but it does mean we teach reflection and response to build resilience. We teach respect, confidence and teamwork as part of building community spirited young people with an enterprising attitude to life.”

Find out more about the company here.


Further Reading

Mistakes Can be a Good Thing

Do you have a perfectionist child? A child sets extremely high standards, and is then frustrated and unhappy if she cannot meet them? A little bit of perfectionism needn’t be a bad thing, but a person who can rarely be satisfied with their efforts, will rarely find pleasure in completing a task. Emily’s daughter is a perfectionist, and she tells us today how she deals with her. … read more 

Why We Should Let Kids Fail, Jessica Lahey

“I became a parent and a secondary school teacher in the same year. During my first decade raising two boys and teaching hundreds of children, I began to feel a creeping sense of unease, a suspicion that something was rotten. But it was only when my elder child started secondary school that my worlds collided and the source of the problem became clear to me: today’s overprotective, failure-avoiding parenting has undermined the competence, independence and academic potential of an entire generation.” …. read more 

Teaching Kids to Fail Well, Brené Brown

“If my child, you know, tries out for a team, or you know really wants to get into a certain college or gets shunned at lunch,” she says, “am I willing to sit with her or sit with him and not fix it, but just be with her or him in the struggle? Am I willing to look over and say, ‘God, I know how crappy this feels right now?’ ” … read more

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