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How To Help Your Kids Deal With Defeat, Disappointment, and Failure

How to Help Your Child Deal with Defeat, Disappointment, and Failure


Like all of you, I’ve been through a number of very painful things in my life. And during these times, I remember my Mom telling me how much she wished she could protect me from the pain and heartache and make it all better. But, of course, none of us can protect our children from the agony of defeat, the embarrassment of failure, or the pain of disappointment. There’s no way to avoid them. We can’t wrap our children in bubble wrap and keep them insulated from the world. And since we can’t prevent failures or set backs, we need to prepare them to be able to cope. Even though my mom hates to see me fail, I’m glad she didn’t try to keep me from experiencing life’s hardships.


Accept that you can’t protect your child from heartache.

The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging it. Your child is going to make mistakes – small ones and big ones. Your child is going to fail at some things. That’s simply a fact of life.

Allow them to fail.

Once you’ve accepted that you can’t prevent failures and set backs, you can let go of trying to control everything. Trying to make everything go perfectly for your kids is exhausting. But worse, you’re not doing them any favors by helping them avoid mistakes. If your child gets a “B” on what you believe is “A” quality work, leave it alone. Don’t email his teacher and demand an explanation. Empower your child to talk to his teacher or simply to accept that sometimes you don’t get the grade you think you deserve.  If your child forgets her athletic shoes on the day she has physical education, let her suffer the natural consequences.

Talk about mistakes as learning opportunities.

You’ve accepted that you can’t prevent your child from experiencing failure and you’ve stepped out of the way to allow your kiddo to make some mistakes and experience failure. Now you can help your child see the benefits of mistakes and set backs. You can re-frame “failures” as normal and necessary. Everyone makes mistakes as part of the learning process. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.

Encourage your child to try new things.

Help your child step out of his comfort zone and take some (calculated) risks. If you only do things that you’re already good at, you limit yourself. You miss out on new opportunities and challenges. We learn and grow by challenging ourselves, making mistakes, learning, and ultimately mastering.

Talk about your own setbacks, failures, and mistakes.

Don’t only share your successes with your child. Have honest, age-appropriate, conversations about your own struggles and stories of falling down and getting back up again. This is concrete evidence that everyone makes mistakes and can be highly motivating for children. Being honest and vulnerable also builds a deeper connection between you and your child.

Be a role model.

Model self-compassion. Use positive self-talk that models self-acceptance when you’ve make a mistake. Don’t put yourself or others down with names such as stupid, clumsy, crazy, or worse.

Take good care of your body, mind, and spirit. Model for your children the importance of various types of self-care.

Apologize to your child when you make a mistake in parenting her. This is a tremendous way to normalize making a mistake and repairing a relationship.

Don’t praise your child for achievements only.

Too much emphasis on achievement, whether on the soccer field or classroom, puts the focus on winning and being the best. You might be wondering, what’s wrong with winning and being the best? The problem is that when you get your self-worth through achievement, you are going to feel really bad about yourself when you don’t win or succeed. And sometimes your child is going to lose his soccer match or fail a test. Instead, focus on praising your child’s effort, overcoming, and improvement.

Love unconditionally.

Loving your child unconditionally is pretty obvious parenting advice. But if we’re going to be honest, it’s not always easy. Kids know how to push your buttons. Sometimes they do some pretty awful things. You feel angry and disappointed. Your challenge is to show them you love them anyway. Show them you love them even when you’re angry and even when they mess up. It’s not fair to encourage them to try new things and fail and then turn around and judge them for that same failure. Your children want to please you and make you proud. Remember to show them that achievement isn’t the way to secure your affection or attention.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read. To find out more about overcoming perfectionism, please follow my Facebook page and sign-up for my free e-newsletter.


Image: David Castillo Dominici at

How To Help Your Kids Deal With Defeat, Disappointment, and Failure

Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin is a licensed psychotherapist and codependency expert practicing in San Jose, CA. She is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.  

To learn more, visit Sharon's website. And please sign-up for free access to her resource library HERE (worksheets, tips, meditations, and resources for healing codependency, perfectionism, anxiety and more).

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APA Reference
Martin, S. (2018). How To Help Your Kids Deal With Defeat, Disappointment, and Failure. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Jan 2018
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