ASK Dr. Donna-Helping children deal with failure (of expectations)

April 14, 2022

Dear Dr. Donna,

Our 9-year-old son is academically gifted and a talented athlete. As a result of his success in the classroom and on the baseball field, we find that when things get tough or he is faced with failure, he struggles to maintain his composure and persevere. He is his own worst critic. We want to help him learn how to accept that mistakes are learning opportunities and that he does not need to be perfect — nor should he expect to be. How can we guide him through the times when he feels like a failure because he struck out or missed a problem on a math test?

~ Paralyzed by perfection


While the idea of failing can seem scary, the experience of failing is in fact invaluable. As adults, we know how difficult it can be to accept this — we tie our failures to our sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-acceptance, and we know our children will as well. That disappointment can be crushing, so we try like the dickens to protect them from it. It’s hard to watch our children struggle. But so-called failure (we’ll talk about this later) has many important lessons. No one succeeds at every turn. Some sort of failure is inevitable for everyone, and kids need help learning how to fail. In fact, protecting our children from failure may do more harm than good.


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