Why you should embrace failure to boost kids’ confidence


How do we teach our children to embrace their failures? Join our contributor, Kari, as she gives you practical tips to teach your children how to learn from failure.

This week one of my students, an 8th grader, described the study method she was using to prepare for her Science final. She said, “My mom quizzed me and I wrote down the questions that I got wrong to review later. But because I got them wrong, I now have memorized the answer.”

It is quite a contradiction that, in school, we place such a high importance on accurate answers that we forget to teach our students what this student knows. Making mistakes is how we learn our most memorable lessons.

Perfectionism Depletes Creativity and Confidence

An “A” grade is what we strive for. It is what we celebrate. As you know, to achieve this, students must be right at least 90% of the time. Our emphasis on perfection in academia can stifle the type of risk-taking and creativity that sparks new ideas, boosts confidence, and creates a love of learning. Over time, many students become afraid to even try.

What’s Spanx Got to Do With It?

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, has said that growing up her father would ask her, “What did you fail at this week?” If she had no answer, he was disappointed. If she tried something new, even if she was terrible at it, she got a high five and a “way to go.” Blakley credits this family dynamic with transforming her definition of failure because “doing” was not about the outcome, it was about the trying. As an adult, she tried and failed many times and at many things before she created Spanx. Ultimately, it was this definition of failure that kept her going when things were difficult and gave her the confidence to take the risks that brought her success.

Failure is Not Final!

I am in no way advocating for lowering standards in schools. High expectations and accuracy are important. But what if we use summertime, and the absence of report cards, to help our kids see that failure is not final! That taking creative risks is rewarding. Let’s re-label failure as “experimentation” and “practice.” This summer, let’s celebrate the try.

So let’s deem this year “The Summer of Failures.”

Will you join me? Let’s take this opportunity to reintroduce our kids to the kind of risk-taking that promotes learning and creativity. Let’s all try new things and celebrate the effort! We hope you will check back in and let us know what you failed at this week.

Here are 10 ideas to help you join the Summer of Failures. 

  1. Can you build a boat that floats in your pool or pond using only a piece of tinfoil? Does your boat hold “passengers” like pennies or small toys?
  2. How hot does it have to be to fry an egg on the sidewalk? Try it. Remember to clean up afterward.
  3. Try a favorite recipe but sub in new ingredients. Some ideas? Mac n cheese without the box. Coffee in brownies. Pineapple in salsa.
  4. Use a box, plastic wrap, and tinfoil to build a solar oven and make s’mores.
  5. Read about or watch a few videos on how to fold paper airplanes. Make some. Tweak your design and have a flying contest.
  6. Write a cooperative family story. Place a piece of butcher paper in a common area.  Have one person start the story. Each family member adds a sentence every time they walk past the story. Continue until the story is complete (or completely nonsense).
  7. Try a new restaurant, park, or library. Can you get there without using navigation?
  8. Paint with watercolors.
  9. Trace a picture with your non-dominant hand. Then try using your toes.
  10. Using cups, a golf ball, and recyclable materials, design a backyard mini-golf course.

If you have decided to join in the movement, congratulations! Enjoy celebrating all your failures and those of your kids. Have a summer full of fun and creativity. Like my student, I hope your failures teach you the most important lesson. Failure is not final. Learning comes from trying!


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