Should we teach our kids how to fail?


After an incident with one of my students yesterday it made me think about a training day we had at school a few years ago.  We were asked: If your child had failed their music exam, what would you say to them.  There were several options, a few “nice” options, of how the exam was unfair and there must have been a mistake etc.  The option I chose was “On the day you weren’t good enough!”  Okay, it was in my pre mummy days, but I think I’d still say the same.  I wouldn’t put it quite as bluntly as that, and I would strongly point out that with work I’m sure they would be good enough, but I think it’s important that children know that on occasions we don’t quite get it right.

Yesterday I watched as a usually very strong A level student had a meltdown as she struggled in a resit exam because she couldn’t get it right.  She was used to being top of the class and simply couldn’t cope with the thought of getting it wrong.  More and more I am surprised at how pupils are scared to get it wrong.  This fear puts a huge brick wall in their learning as they are too afraid to take a risk and try, they would rather put nothing.  At one point last year I banned my Year 7 class from asking questions for the first 10 minutes of an exercise, to try and encourage them to think for themselves.  Even if it was wrong, I don’t mind that, I simply want them to lose the fear of getting it wrong.

Whilst these are minor incidents, the bigger picture is what starts to worry me.  As we get older nearly all of us encounter failure at some point.  The rejection from the university of our choice, the job we didn’t get, the boy who didn’t fancy us back.  All of these failures make us stronger and give us character.  We learn how to deal with things going wrong and we become better for it.

In todays world we try to protect our children from feeling hurt and upset, but are we doing them any favours? There is the introduction of non-competitive sports day (don’t get me started, that’s a whole other issue) and I heard today that a primary head doesn’t allow childrens’ party invitations to be handed out unless the whole class is invited.  Whilst in a sugar coated world this all sounds lovely, it isn’t reality and at some point our children are going to grow up and real life will hit them like a truck if we don’t prepare them for it.  I’ve watched some of my pupils go out onto work placements (for jobs they were genuinely interested in doing) and been back within a few days because the reality of doing a “proper” job with a “proper” boss who will give them a bollocking if they’re not doing it right was too hard to take.

In life, we will come across people who don’t like us (I don’t like everyone I’ve ever met) and they won’t invite us to their party.  It is important we teach our kids that despite this they are still fabulous and very much loved but on some very rare occasions they just might not make the grade!



37 thoughts on “Should we teach our kids how to fail?

  1. Amanda (@girlgonecoastal)

    Love this!
    I detest the whole ‘everyone’s a winner’ approach that schools take, it teaches nothing, if anything it fails our children.
    If we wrap them up too much in cotton wool when the realities of life hit it can be all the more damaging as they never expected to be unlinked / lose / not clever enough the list is endless.
    My kids are 4, I take the same approach as my parents did with us ‘suck it up!’.
    We can educate our children that life will throw ups and downs at them without being mean, a friend of mine got into such a distressed state taking her GCSEs, she actually retook maths after getting an A as she couldn’t comprehend not having an A*, it was just sad.

    1. notafrumpymum

      It drives me mad too. Not everyone can be a winner, that’s life!
      I remember telling my mum I was thinking of taking Art GCSE. She told me very plainly, “Jo, don’t bother, you can’t draw and you’re not very artistic!” Harsh, but completely true, and what I needed (although maybe didn’t want) to hear at the time!

  2. Denise

    The irony is that if you do something like an NVQ in youth work (like I have!) you spend all this time in self reflection. Which is fine, but I think over the years successive governments have put more and more onus on schools and teachers/practitioners to take total responsibility for students’ success or otherwise and this is what has led to an attitude by the public and by students themselves that they are merely passive consumers to be pointed towards the route to easy success. I think this is similar to views I hear sometimes from staff who get exasperated by pupils being afraid to express an opinion in case it is the “wrong” opinion.

    It’s all exasperating!

    1. notafrumpymum

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, I feel totally responsible for my students results and that takes it away from them. Although I often get the impress they feel if they do badly its because of us teachers but if they do well its despite us. Either way we can’t win! x

      1. Erin Ek Rush

        I agree as well! It does seem like the teachers are held responsible rather than the students. Then there’s all this shock when young people aren’t prepared for the work force and more pressure put on the teachers!

  3. SusanD crochet addict uk

    Failure is a big part of life and if you aren’t taught how to cope with it then life becomes very difficult. My son is only 7 and is already learning the hard lessons. At the last sports day at school he was near to last or last in most races. one race they had to put a ball inbetween their knees and jump to the end. Once the 2 winners had won everyone else just gave up and went back. My son took another 5 mins to finish but he did it. The best thing was most of the parents and teachers where shouting for him. I was such a proud mum. One of the mums came to me after and she said her son has said he wanted to be more like Ryan. When she said why he said because even if he doesn’t win he still smiles. I don’t I hate losing.

    1. notafrumpymum

      It may get interesting in our house when it gets to board game time. Hubby and I have been on a monopoly ban for the past 8 years. I bought us one for Christmas years ago and every time we played it ended up in a big row because neither of us can bear to lose (especially not to each other)

    1. notafrumpymum

      Haha, and the sooner they learn that the better! My mum always laughs because my brother when he was younger got up on stage to play the guitar because our great-uncle had told him he was great at it. He was about 5, had a tiny toy guitar and could pull a few strings, nothing more. My mum was cringing with embarrassment!

  4. expressionconfession

    Yes we should teach them that’s it ok to fail and that it’s part of the learning process. I failed my driving test the first time and I’m the BEST driver ever (really). Sarcasm aside though, it’s healthy.

  5. Sarahmumof3

    I agree, I don’t sugar coat things for my kids I let them learn their own lessons and getting things wrong is important, they have to learn how to cope with all situations not just have someone always fighting their corner telling them it’ll all be fine.

  6. notafrumpymum

    Awww, I tell my boy he’s a great dancer too! If jumping up and down like a caveman ever catches on as a dance craze, he’s all set!

  7. Vaidehi @vaichin

    I think it is important to face some failure in your formative years. As parents, we need to teach our children how to face that failure and move on, becoming stronger in the process. Saying they are good when they are not is giving them false hope. Expecting success at every stage is just pressure. We need to teach our kids to give it their best, the best of their abilities, irrespective of outcome.

  8. Jonathan

    This is such an important topic. I think that it’s really important that kids (and adults) are able to learn from failure, and feedback about failure. It’s not always easy (even as an adult sometimes!), but it’s something that you have to be able to do.

  9. StephsTwoGirls

    oh you’re all so cruel!! ;) no, really, I do totally agree. I think it’s interesting though how different children seem to be born with a difference in how much they care about winning/losing/failing/succeeding. I spend a lot of time trying to encourage my daughter to just enjoy taking part!

  10. Kate

    Definitely agree with this. They have to learn that they can’t win everytime, we wouldn’t be fair to them if they didn’t experience failure at some point and realise that actually, it’s not the end of the world & sometimes it’s for good reason! I failed my driving test 4 times & my instructor couldn’t understand it. A family friend (retired driving instructor) offer to take me out and told me very gently I couldn’t drive very well. He had to unteach me and teach me everything again. Was very put out at the time but really grateful now as I’m a much better driver for it & much more confident on the road!

  11. Pingback: Should We Teach our Kids How to Fail? | Tots 100

  12. Kizzy Bass

    I totally agree with you. Everyone has to face failure at some point as we are not perfect. If we give our children the tools to deal with failure and use it to improve, surely this is a better way than never allowing them to develop and grow so when it does happen, it has a bigger impact upon their lives. This is a really great post, thanks for sharing it.

  13. Hurnae

    I think people need to teach their kids not about failure but disappointment. Parents need to make sure that their children know that if they work hard and do as well in life as possible they won’t feel as much disappointment if they don’t do them things.

    No one is perfect and no one can be brought up to be perfect.

    Little Mix for Collection Cosmetics

  14. MyLifeAsAMummy (@MyLifeAsAMummyx)

    A very thought provoking post.
    I do agree with what you have said. You can not sugar coat this world or kids will just fall further when they fail. Everyone fails at certain things in life, no on is perfect, and I believe the sooner our children understand that the better.

    Thank you for linking up with the Weekend Blog Hop

    Laura x x x

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  16. emilytealady

    Really interesting. I mentor nursing students and at times I dont think they have seen enough of the world. I have to sign off their competencies and the whole placement which they need to pass. Sometimes I can’t sign them off and they can’t understand why or have a discussion about why or how to improve. I think of all the failings and rejections I’ve had in my life and I think you need to fail at times to see and reflect on your self and your progress. Failure doesn’t mean you can’t ever try again and usually you’re better at whatever it is after the first time (thinking of my driving test there!)

    1. Not A Frumpy Mum

      I think it’s human nature to take failure personally and it’s always disappointing but you move on from it. I like to think it’s better to have tried and failed than always wonder what if? xx

  17. Karen

    I’m a secondary school teacher and completely agree with what you have written. Failure is inevitable at points in life and we are not training kids to understand what it means to fail and how to deal with it and learn from it.
    Karen recently posted…Making pizzaMy Profile


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