How To Raise Kids Who Aren't Afraid To Fail

Legendary failures show the value of imperfection.

Siblings camping being silly Colin + Meg | Unsplash

Albert Einstein. Michael Jordan. Whoopi Goldberg. Marie Curie. Walt Disney. What do your kids have in common with these famous legends?


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Yes, you want your kids to fail

Good parenting = protection from hurt and regret, right? 

That's what many well-meaning parents believe. Because we love our kids so much and because we live in a culture obsessed with effortless notoriety, we often try to keep our kids from ever experiencing the sting (and embarrassment) of failure. We think if we don’t ever speak about failure, it won’t show up.


As such, that first T-ball hit must be a home run. That first dance recital must star our daughter front and center. And why isn’t our first grader the school's Spelling Bee Champion the first time she enters the contest?

And that's not a bad thing. Failure is a natural, healthy (and even helpful) part of life. Here’s an amazing secret: The more your kids fail, the more potential they have to succeed afterward. (Yes, seriously.) If we'd stop obsessing about whether our kids effortlessly have the it factor or not and concentrate on their growth, we'd all feel better for it.

Failure breeds success

It motivates us and teaches us to perform better — if we're learning from our mistakes, that is, instead of beating ourselves up over them.


Experts say failure is essential to success. Failure and its resulting sense of vulnerability create a person whose heart is full of courage, compassion, and connection instead of someone with a false (and shaky) sense of certainty, which can lead to shame and blame.

Overcoming failure helps our children increase their self-esteem, risk-taking, self-confidence, and optimism, which fortifies them to better face life's inevitable challenges. Their stress and anxiety decrease as they learn to stop fearing failure and, instead, learn from it and try harder (and smarter) the next time.

A recent National Science Foundation study bears this out. The study divided 400 students from the Bronx and Harlem into three groups. The first group read about scientific discoveries alone, the second group read about a scientist’s struggles and discoveries, and the final group read about the scientist’s trials and errors that led to breakthroughs.


Guess which groups achieved better grades? You got it! The last two!

The first group believed that legends like Einstein and Curie were just born with a lucky innate ability to solve challenging problems and make scientific discoveries (but historical records tell us that isn't so).

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Five famous people who failed several times before they became respected, successful legends.

1. Albert Einstein

Einstein is a great role model for teaching our kids the importance of thinking outside the box. Einstein’s teachers thought he was dumb. Yet a couple of decades later, he won the Nobel Prize for his scientific discoveries in Physics. Einstein used his quirkiness and intuition, combined with The Scientific Method, to arrive at his Theory of Relativity and other innovative ideas.


Without Einstein, your cell phone GPS wouldn’t work, yet he faced scholarly discrimination and left Germany because he was Jewish. Despite it all, Einstein believed in himself in the face of these challenges.

2. Marie Curie

Curie is a wonderful role model to teach our kids about fortitude. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, she was one of a few women scientists in an otherwise male-dominated field. She tried for years to create polonium and radium with much trial and error. (In fact, she died from complications of exposure to radium.)

“First principle: never to let one’s self be beaten down by persons or events,” she said. Learning about Curie’s determination and resilience encourages our kids to 'try, try again,' even if they fail, stumble, or need to take a break along the way.


3. Walt Disney

Disney teaches kids to follow their passion and creativity. Like Einstein, Disney’s ADHD kept him daydreaming and doodling in class, so he left school for adventure. He saw adversity and tragedy in World War I, and Denmark’s Tivoli, the world’s second oldest theme park, inspired his first Disneyland.

He returned to the States more determined to give families a vacation filled with fun. But, his first company went bankrupt, and he had constant financial challenges until his death, yet he was unwilling to compromise his vision, which turned him into an artist of reinvention.


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4. Whoopi Goldberg

Goldberg teaches us to turn our lemons into lemonade and laugh at our problems. Whoopi was a single mom, a former addict, and grew up in the projects of New York City. She could have been sad and bitter. Instead, she was funny and created the hilarious The Spook Show to share with the world. She went on to star in several award-winning movies and remains a respected voice in the media today.

When we wallow in our stress and anxiety when we face hardship, we only feel more anxious. But, if we laugh, the world laughs with us ... and we laugh to the bank.


5. Michael Jordan

Jordan teaches kids to overcome their limitations. Ironically, he didn’t make his high school basketball team because he was "too short." This setback is a great lesson about ages and stages. The only sure thing in life is change. Failure invites us to change things up. Jordan used his high school years to practice and hone his basketball skills while he physically grew. He stuck with it instead of quitting when his goal wasn't achieved instantly and easily. America thanks him (and so does Nike).

Michael Jordan wanted to sign with Adidas, but Nike didn’t mind his height.



If we teach our kids ONLY about success and wax on and on about every 'perfect' attribute they possess, they’ll think we expect them to be perfect.


And sooner or later, when they misstep, they'll feel compelled to lie to us (or to cover up that situation) for fear of losing our love and respect. They become afraid to show their vulnerability, scared to apply for a job they think is out of their league, or even to speak up.

Researcher, author, and speaker Brene Brown says that our job from the time we first count all their little fingers and toes is to tell our children, "You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle — and you’re worthy of love and belonging."

And then kiss those little fingers and toes if you’d like because you’re preparing your kids to love others and contribute to the world, not conquer it.


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Kathryn Brown Ramsperger wrote for National Geographic and Kiplinger before working as a humanitarian journalist in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. She's also an intuitive creativity coach and creator of Step Into Your Story! (TM), as well as the award-winning author of two novels, including her latest A Thousand Flying Things.