How to make your child 'fit' for failure

Kinderling News & Features

Raising kids to navigate life without teaching them how to fail is as damaging as not teaching them to read and write.   

So says paediatrician and author Laura Jana, who told Feed Play Love host Shevonne Hunt that the best way to prepare our little ones for real life is to show them early on that life is not perfect and nobody expects them to be. 

She calls it being 'fit for failure'. 

“Failure is one of the most important skills. We see it all over big business now, where instead of wanting to know all your successes, you're asked what do you do when you fail,” says Laura. 

“Part of the thinking behind that is because information is so readily available these days, it is easier to find the answers to your questions. But to innovate - think ahead of the pack - you need to be able to deal with failure.”

A hard pill to swallow 

Looking at your little one now, it can be a hard lesson to acknowledge. When you watch them fall off their bike or lose a favourite toy, as parents we feel our child's pain and mostly want to take it away from them.

But it's these moments, Laura argues, that are pivotal in teaching them how to deal with failure and loss and crucially, how to get back up again. 

“Part of this process is acknowledging the emotion your child is experiencing, but understand that you don't need to solve it or patch it over,” says Laura. 

Stick to the big picture

This mindset takes practice and commitment. 

“It’s easy to get buried in the day to day of parenting, but you need to keep it in perspective," Laura explains. "You don't want your child to feel every minor loss or failure - it's devastating to watch. But you don't want your child to grow up to be someone who quits their job the first time their boss reprimands them.

“Somehow we have to get them from a place of acknowledgement of their failure (like a lost toy), and [show them] how to get up again and move forward." 

Teach them to 'fail forward'

Letting kids fail doesn't mean getting rid of safe things - or deliberately setting them up for failure.

“We need to teach them to 'fail forward'; that’s a phrase used by executives in Silicon Valley to inspire resilience. We need to let our kids have the fail moments in the first place, then we can teach them how to keep moving forward.”

Laura likens the process to teaching our toddlers to walk. 

“We set up safe spaces for them while they’re learning. But we still expect them to fall. And when they do, we pick them up and dust them off and send them on their way.”

Shift your perspective

Wanting the best for your child does not mean giving them everything and protecting them from everything.

“Day to day it’s tough to watch your child fail, but you need to think to yourself as a parent that it’s a whole lot tougher if you don’t teach them how to deal with that,” Laura says. 

"The goal is to give them a strategy for life, and that strategy is not YOU solving every little problem for them.”