When Failure is a Gift: The Key to Building Resilient Children

When Failure is a Gift: The Key to Building Resilient Children

No one like to see their children fail. It’s our nature to protect kiddos from unpleasantness, so we’re quick to soften blows and bust out the emotional bubble wrap in order to protect their self-esteem. But what if we have it all wrong?

According to a recent article by Mandie Shean, protecting children from failure and disappointment makes them less able to cope with setbacks. At AZ+A, we know how important it is for children to have healthy coping skills and Ms. Shean’s fascinating article about building kids’ resilience reinforces the work we do as pediatric occupational therapists.


The problem is, in our efforts to protect children, we take valuable opportunities for learning away from them. Failure provides benefits that cannot be gained any other wayFailure is a gift disguised as a bad experience. Failure is not the absence of success, but the experience of failure on the way to success. 


Negative emotions such as frustration and disappointment are natural reactions to failure. However, when children are not allowed to experience these emotions, they don’t learn to master them. Kids need to learn how to cope with small failures – with the support of a trusted adult for thousands of repetitions to start – in order to grow emotionally and become more resilient. Failure is also a great lesson about the natural consequences of choices, and children can begin to learn the power of their decisions.

So how can you raise resilient children who understand it’s ok to fail? In addition to building these skills through pediatric occupational therapy, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t protect kids from low-risk natural consequences. If your child didn’t do his homework, we recommend investigating all physical, environmental, and emotional factors to get to the root of what may be inhibiting success – then create space for the child to experience natural consequences at school.
  • Remind children negative emotions go along with failure – and it’s ok to feel those emotions. Stress that they should feel those emotions and it is natural and human to feel that way – then move on and think of it like an emotional regulation “muscle” they’re strengthening for next time.
  • Praise kids for real effort, but don’t give inflated or untrue praise. Acknowledge and attune to effort (“You worked so hard”) rather than offer person-focused praise (“You’re so pretty”). And if they didn’t do a standout job, resist saying things like “You did an amazing job”.

As difficult as it is to watch your children fail, allowing them to feel it and learn from it helps make them more resilient and more likely to succeed later in life.