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How To Help Your Child Deal With Failure | ParentEdge


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Lessons From Failure – for Both Kids and Parents

Lessons from Failure for KidsOne of the most difficult things as a parent is to watch your child unhappy. Your instinct is to rush in with soothing words and hugs, as you attempt to kiss his pain away. And this works fine when your child is small and the pain is external, and of course when mommy is this all-knowing person who can do magic! But then the scrapes and bruises of early childhood turn into bigger rejections and rebuffs – how can you protect your child from the hard knocks of life?

Recently, my high-school son came home from school very dejected. After all the practice he had put in, he was not chosen to be on his school’s team. He had put his heart into this sport – practising for several years, through the summer holidays and weekends, soldiering on. And it was not as if he was just not good enough for the team – he had missed the timings by a mere second. He had beaten the other boy each time during all earlier practices, but just this time he was second, and it made all the difference. Nothing I said in consolation made him feel better, because both of us knew that they were mere words. At the end of the day, all he knew was that though he had given it his all, and put his heart and soul into it,  there was to be no prize at the end.

Most of his friends are those he made through the practice sessions, so now he is lonely too, as all of them are out practising for meets and he is not there with them. And I was taken aback at something he said to me, cutting me off when I was trying to console him – “Mom, this is sport – there are just two ways to go: the winners and the losers.”

A harsh lesson to learn early in life? This set me thinking – our instinct is to protect; but are we doing our kids a disfavour by trying to protect them from life? How do we create a safety net for them so that they are able to bounce back from whatever life throws at them? And how and when should we let go?

Also Read : Teach your Kids to Differentiate between Right and Wrong Touch


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Gayatri Kulkarni is on the ParentEdge Editorial Panel. Her children have studied in the Indian ICSE, the International Baccalaureate and American school systems – giving her a ringside view of the pros and cons of all three systems. She has a multicultural approach to education and is interested in learning methods that stimulate a lifelong love for learning.

7 thoughts on “Lessons From Failure – for Both Kids and Parents

  1. Sudha Kumar

    Very interesting post Gayatri. And I can relate to this very well! You have raised a very important point on parenting – equipping children to face the real world- the problem is- there are no cookie cutter solutions- and one has to really feel one’s way through each situation.

  2. Aparajita Bose

    Well, this is somewhat close to (though not very close) what my ten-year-old son has been going through of late. He developed a certain degree of liking for cricket only recently and keeps being tossed about from only-fielder to substitute batsman-too to fielder-and-last batsman and goes around the circle, but has a long way to go before he moves up there to be considered a strong player in his campus cricket team. He gets dejected now and then for all this instability. I throw in “Just work on getting better than what you were a week back.” now and then, trying to pass on the message, “What matters is becoming better at something over time, even if I’m not the best today or even close to it. Some day I might really become the best or come close to it if I don’t lose heart. Some day, when I look back, I’ll be happy knowing I’m far better today than when I’d begun because I didn’t give up.”
    A true story from my circle of ex-colleagues at Wipro where I worked in the past –
    My married ex-colleague was finding it difficult to get a new job owing to his specialised field (where he had worked for long) facing a meltdown. His wife, holding a plum post in IT field then, taught him the ABC’s of IT and slowly but steadily he has worked his way up, now earning a very handsome salary, though less than what his wife earns. He knows he is not one of the best, but he made the most from a bad situation. Maybe he had learnt NOT to give up through his childhood years, or maybe much later.
    But it definitely helps to have parents who don’t get too ecstastic with a win and too depressed with a loss, but keep inspiring the child with “You have improved, you’ll improve even more.”, whatever the outcome of a match/event is (Maybe you’ve done this already, Gayatri; my apology if I sound preachy here).
    A failure now and then builds more resilience. The earlier such lessons are learnt, the better it is.

  3. Ramya

    Very interesting post Gayatri.

    I think sharing one’s own setbacks does help. For example, with my 7-year old daughter, I often share instances – an article that I thought was well-written (and I had invested significant effort on) torn apart by colleagues (:-)

    I talk about how I felt(super bad) and what I am going to do(not the details, but the gist).

    I know this is not as black-and-white as not getting a place on the school team (My heart goes out to your son Gayatri!), but I do hope this approach will communicate something to my daughter…

  4. renuka

    As we go through life we learn more about success and failure and that they are not necessarily as cast in stone as they seem to be- tough to make kids understand that, though. Akshita has been doing musicals for the longest time and she has never (not as yet) played a main role or even a supporting role, but takes on any role (company as it’s called where they become several minor characters) given to her cheerfully and works hard at it. I am amazed at her grit and like a typical Indian parent almost advised her not to waste her time on minor roles, but then learned to appreciate what she was doing- likewise, you should tell your son that though he is disappointed now, perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt from all those pracice sessions (team work, perseverance, making friends) which will stand him in good stead in life. Letting go is a bigger issue that we have to learn to grapple with…

    1. Raju

      Show deesirpsct for those in authority and for the laws of the land! Why should parents expect any different from their kids if they act rude and deesirpsctful and have the attitude of it’s all about me, who gives a rip about anyone else ? We see it all the time out of loud unruly kids who think rules or just basic decency doesn’t apply to them. Most of them haven’t seen any different.

  5. Reyna

    When we asked for OT for my son, who has sevree sensory needs, I was told his cognitive ability was too low to benefit (after they gave this non-verbal child a verbal IQ test).We were also told his attention level was too low to benefit speech therapy.His very own Catch22. Too stupid to address his sensory needs, too many sensory needs to address his language.


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