Learning to Handle Failure

I’m not on the team.

I wasn’t chosen for the squad.

They didn’t pick me for the play.

I missed out on a leadership position.

I didn’t get the award.

As a parent, I can promise you that at some point, you will hear one of those statements from your kids, and it will be AGONISING – for you as well as for them.  

Seeing your kids go through heartache and disappointment is one of the worst parts of parenting – BUT those moments of missing out are also hugely important. 

There’s a post on my blog that I wrote several years ago about that time my then-nine-year-old daughter wanted to get into a school netball team, and – #spoileralert – she didn’t make it.  

Here’s the full story, told by yours truly at the time:

Next week, my nine-year-old daughter is quite probably going to have her heart broken 💔 and you know what? I’m okay with that.

My little wing attack is trying out for a netball team to play in one of those specific inter-school comps. She really, REALLY wants a spot in the team, but truth be told, her chances are slim at best. There are only two teams and she’s up against LOTS of kids, including kids in the grade above – kids who’ve been playing netball longer than she has and who are just more skilled on the court.

We’ve talked about all that, and she knows what she’s signing up for, but even knowing disappointment is on the cards, she still wants to throw her hat in the ring, and I’m proud of her for that.

Now here’s the weird bit.

As much as I really, really want her to score a place in the team, I also hope she doesn’t.

Does that sound cruel? Possibly – but I have a good reason. 

Resilience is a muscle I want my daughter to develop, and the truth is that experiencing these small, inevitable disappointments and losses will help her to do that. It’ll be good for her, teaching her how to handle life’s rollercoaster of triumphs, tragedies, wins and losses.  

My daughter is only nine. She has years (and years, and years) of heartbreak ahead of her at school. 

There’ll be other sporting or debating or drama teams she misses out on, and school competitions where she bombs out or fails to be awarded a place…  

There’ll be teachers she doesn’t gel with, assignments or tests where she’s disappointed with her mark, parties she’s not invited to, badges or leadership positions she fails to secure…

Does it hurt? Absolutely. 

Is it sometimes unfair? Sure – but that’s school, and in the long run, it’s also life.

As joyous and wonderful and thrilling as it can be, it can also stomp your heart into the ground when you least expect it.

In school, you’ll miss out on a certain role or a grade or badge. In life, you’ll miss out on jobs and promotions and second dates. 

Team sport is a great way to teach your kids this lesson, because no amount of bubble-wrap parenting can save them from team losses or unfair calls, and they have to learn to accept those moments with good grace.

Sometimes you really aren’t the best person for the job or role or place. Sometimes the school or coach or employer gets it wrong.

Either way, life goes on. 

In a 2015 column called “Want To Raise A Successful Kid? Let Them Fail”, clinical psychologist Dr Stephanie O’Leary outline five benefits kids experience from failure. 

Here’s a nutshell summary: 

1. Experiencing failure helps your child learn to cope.
2. Hardship builds character.
3. The older you are the first time you ‘fall’, the further the fall and the harder the landing.
4. Failing teaches your child to persevere.
5. Rescuing your child sends the message that you don’t trust them.

Of course, I want to see my daughter win a place on that netball team, but if she doesn’t, that’s okay, because she’ll develop her inner grit – her bounce-ability. I want her to get comfortable with failure. I want her to learn how to feel the disappointment and shrug it off knowing that tomorrow is a new day and that she has it within her to rise.

I think we could all do with a little more resilience, because rejection in any form is tough, and sometimes, the best thing we can do is get a little tougher.


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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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