What you should know
Failure is a part of life. The Bible says that “we all stumble.” (James 3:2) Children stumble too. However, setbacks can have a positive side—they provide opportunities for children to develop resilience. Children are not necessarily born with this ability, but they can acquire it. “My husband and I have observed that it is better when children learn to deal with failure instead of pretending it didn’t happen,” says a mother named Laura. “They can learn how to persevere when things don’t go right.”
Many children deal poorly with failure. Some children have not learned to deal with failure because their parents shield them from any accountability. For example, if a child receives a bad grade, some parents will automatically blame the teacher. If a child has a conflict with a friend, his parents will automatically blame the friend.
Really, though, how can children learn to take responsibility for their mistakes if parents shield them from all consequences?
What you can do
Teach your children that their actions have consequences.
The Bible says: “Whatever a person is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Galatians 6:7.
Actions have outcomes. Damages have costs. Mistakes have consequences. Children should know the principle of cause and effect and feel a measure of responsibility for their part in what happened. Therefore, avoid shifting the blame or making excuses for your children. Instead, let them experience reasonable consequences that are appropriate for children their age. Of course, the child should also be able to see clearly the connection between wrong actions and their consequences.
Help your children find solutions.
Bible principle: “The righteous one may fall seven times, and he will get up again.”—Proverbs 24:16.
Failure can be painful, but it is not the end of the world. Help your children focus on finding solutions instead of getting sidetracked by the seeming unfairness of a situation. For example, if your son has failed a test at school, help him see how he can take control of the situation by studying harder and resolving to do better next time. (Proverbs 20:4) If your daughter has had an argument with a friend, help her figure out how she can take the initiative to make amends, regardless of who is primarily at fault.—Romans 12:18; 2 Timothy 2:24.
Teach your children to be modest.
Bible principle: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think.”—Romans 12:3.
Telling your child that he or she is “the best” at something is neither realistic nor helpful. After all, even children who excel academically will not receive a perfect grade every time. And children who excel at some sport will not always win. Children who have a modest view of themselves are actually better able to cope with failures and setbacks.
The Bible says that adversity can make us stronger and can help us develop endurance. (James 1:2-4) So although failures and setbacks are disappointing, you can help your children put them in perspective.
Teaching children resilience—like teaching any skill—takes time and effort. But there will be a payoff when they enter adolescence and go through it. “Teens with good coping skills are less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when they’re overwhelmed,” says the book Letting Go With Love and Confidence. “They are more likely to thrive in new and unexpected situations.” Of course, the benefits of resilience continue on into adulthood.
Tip: Set the example. Remember, how you handle life’s disappointments will help train your children how to handle theirs.