Christopher Smith MD Author


Working Through Failure

Dear Dads, 

Not making the basketball team. Failing a math test. Having to retake a driver’s license exam. Whatever it might be, there will be times when we need to help our children through the act of failing. Let’s make sure we don’t fall short ourselves in the process. 

We all fail, including me. In my upcoming memoir, I share some of my failures and how I was able to overcome them.

Failure sucks. There isn’t any other way around it. Even as adults we know the crushing feeling that comes with defeat, and continue to work on processing it. If we are still struggling with it with more life experience, how are our children handling failure?

Before we even start helping our children work through failure, we have to be prepared to let them fail. As a dad, this might have made you wince a little bit. It’s natural to want to protect your child from failure; isn’t it part of your role to make sure they’re protected? Of course it is, and when I say let them fail, I don’t mean in any life-altering ways. I mean in ways that teach them the consequences of actions, the ability to try again, and the determination to try again. 

When helping our children work through a failure, it’s important that we don’t imply that the failure is finite, and that it doesn’t translate to other areas of life. Don’t imply that a failed math test means your child is academically doomed; offer to help run through practice questions instead. 

Give them guidance on how to approach the situation next time, as they will continue to run into situations that challenge them, and that might not have the outcome they were hoping for. Do they need any additional resources to study? What different approaches could be taken?

It’s also important to recognize the disappointment that they may be feeling. Don’t dismiss their feelings; while we’re able to keep the situation in context, this might be all they can concentrate on.  

Don’t be afraid to get vulnerable and share your own failures with them. It will a) humanize you as a parent and b) lets them understand how you were able to work through the challenging time. Seeds of wisdom can naturally be planted through an open and honest discussion. 

Through it all, let your child know that you love them, and that any failure they experience will never change that. 


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