Let Your Kids Fail
One of my first loves was jiu-jitsu. In fact, after graduating from undergrad with my degree in psychology, I was torn between pursuing graduate studies or just being done with school and opening a jiu-jitsu school of my own. Obviously, I went the psychology route, but I never stopped training, and feel like some of the biggest lessons I learned in life, I learned in jiu-jitsu.
The best lesson was this: It’s not winning or losing, like everyone says. It’s winning or learning.
If we don’t allow our children to fail — to do something on their own, the wrong way — then we are robbing them of the opportunity to learn how to do it better next time.
Failure needs to be reframed as an opportunity for growth, not seen as something that is negative and to be avoided. And as simple as that logic is, I can assure you that watching your child fail can be one of the most difficult things to do as a parent.
It’s not winning or losing, like everyone says. It’s winning or learning.
From a strictly evolutionary standpoint, our role is to make sure that our children survive, thrive, and pass on genes to the next generation. Though we all operate in a much more complex world now, that instinct to protect our children and help them succeed in all ways runs very deep in us.
Here’s an example: My oldest son is into skateboarding – he and his friends spend hours out on their skateboards perfecting tricks and coming up with new ones. I never did much skateboarding, so beyond making sure that he wears a helmet and stays as safe as possible, I can’t really offer any more help than that.
But it’s inevitable that he’s going to fall. There is no way to become a good skateboarder without taking some risks, and those risks sometimes pay off (landing an ollie = win) and sometimes there is failure (misplacing feet and not landing the ollie = learning).
From a purely behavioral perspective, “failure” means that we do not access a reinforcer — in other words, we’re ‘learning’ that whatever we just did isn’t going to give us the feel-good feeling we’re looking for. And when we do not access a reinforcer, we try something else next time to see if we can access that reinforcer in a different way.
This variability in the way we behave is what leads to eventual success. But if we don't take risks, then we never have the opportunity to achieve success or to learn from our failures and as a result, we can never achieve greatness. Sure, it may mean that your child avoids that uncomfortable feeling that comes from failure, but it also means that they will never know the feeling of landing the ollie, the pride that comes with it, the self-esteem that it helps to build, and the perseverance and resilience that come along with it.
So let your kids fail and they learn that there is no reason to fear failure. Let them win or learn and they will achieve great things along the way.