The Gift of Failure


Parenthood sparks a powerful, instinctive drive to protect. But, in reality, we do our kids a disservice when we do not allow them the space and opportunity to make decisions with the potential outcome of failure. Like Clark Kent, we are transformed from mild-mannered, everyday people into Authority Figures, Responsible Parties…Tooth Fairies.

Without a second thought we boldly stand between our little darlings and the slings and arrows of the world; the ferocity of our love makes it almost impossible to do anything less.

But the increasing challenges associated with helicopter parenting and launching failing young adults seems to indicate that our approach, while well-intentioned, isn’t the most beneficial.

We place them at a disadvantage when they don’t have the chance to practice with smaller decisions before facing an environment, like college, that requires them to make bigger ones.

It’s a bit like Michael Phelps preparing for the Olympics by staying in bed and saving his strength. Good decision making takes practice and practice has to allow space for both success and failure. It’s not a question of blithely allowing our kids to come to harm; it’s a matter of looking for opportunities to engage kids in appropriate levels of decision making at every stage of their life.

It won’t always go well, but even poor decisions can be beneficial. Helping kids recover gracefully when things don’t go as planned fosters resilience and helps them set healthy expectations for the future. It gives parents the opportunity to demonstrate to our kids’ that their value isn’t contingent on their performance.

Psychologist Brene Brown put it beautifully when she said,

There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” 

You can help your kids make the most of even poor decisions by following a few basic tenets:

  • Empathize even if you disagreed with their decision. You can agree about how crummy it feels to have things go badly as well as validate their initiative.
  • Ask a LOT of open ended questions about how they thought it went and why; their processing of the experience is a lot more valuable than creating an itemized list of errors.
  • Be transparent; sharing your thoughts through stories about your own experiences fosters credibility and encourages openness.

It’s not easy to step back and allow our kids to space make decisions and the potential to fail, but if fosters a resilience and a courage in our kids that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Jill Howgate

One Comment on “The Gift of Failure”

  1. Love these basic tenets of parenting children through failures: genuine empathy rather than “I told you so…”, curiosity without assumptions, and vulnerability in recounting life lessons learned from your own scars! Solid.

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