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It’s in our nature as parents, caregivers, teachers and therapists to protect kid from failure. No one like to see their children deal with unpleasantness. We’re quick bust out the emotional bubble wrap in order to soften the blow and protect their self-esteem. But what if we have it all wrong?

Protecting children from failure and disappointment makes them less able to cope with setbacks, according to a recent article by Mandie Shean. At Zier Institute, we understand how important it is for children, teens and young adults to have healthy coping skills. Ms. Shean’s fascinating article about building kids’ resilience drives this point home.

The problem is, in our efforts to protect children, we take valuable opportunities for learning away from them. Failure provides benefits that cannot be gained any other way. Failure is a gift disguised as a bad experience. Failure is not the absence of success, but the experience of failure on the way to success.

Frustration, anxiety and disappointment are natural reactions to failure. However, when children are not allowed to experience these emotions, they cannot learn to master them. When kids learn how to cope with small failures, it provides them with the foundation to grow emotionally and become more resilient. Failure is also a great lesson about the natural consequences of choices, and teaches everyone, young or old, the power of our decisions.

Raising resilient children who understand it’s ok to fail isn’t as difficult as it sounds. In addition to building these skills through pediatric occupational therapy (when needed), keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t protect kids from low-risk natural consequences. If your child didn’t do his homework, we recommend investigating all physical, environmental, and emotional factors to get to the root of what may be inhibiting success – then create space for the child to experience natural consequences at school.
  • Remind children negative emotions go along with failure – and it’s ok to feel those emotions. Stress that they should feel those emotions and it is natural and human to feel that way – but then move on and think of it like an emotional regulation “muscle” they’re strengthening for next time.
  • Praise kids for real effort, but don’t give inflated or untrue praise. Acknowledge and attune to effort (“You worked so hard”) rather than offer person-focused praise (“You’re so pretty”). And if they didn’t do a standout job, resist saying things like “You did an amazing job”.

It’s difficult to to watch your children fail but allowing them to feel it and learn from it helps make them more resilient and more likely to succeed later in life.