What I Want My Kids To Know About...Failure.

November 6, 2013

Photo by Vancouver Film School on Flickr.
Yesterday I attended my oldest son’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting at school. I couldn’t be more proud. In the past several years, after being in a stable environment, he has made leaps and bounds in his educational progress, meeting grade level (finally!) in math and reading. Many problem areas, diagnosis, and concerns he once had on his school record have now been removed. He is finally seeing success.

And yet with all the good that he has done, he still struggles at times. Struggles with study habits, with speech, and with the written word. His dad and I spend hours each day helping him figure out good ways to organize his thoughts, hold him accountable for work that’s due, and help him with the endless stream of homework.

While at the meeting, I asked about the school’s current grading system of 1-4 instead of letter grades A-F after seeing some inconsistencies in my son’s scoring among his varied classes. I was told that the grading system is basically set up to allow parents to know if their child is meeting certain requirements or not. All terminology related to “fail” has been removed. There are no set guidelines or percentages teachers need to follow, so I should accept some variation in grading amongst classes. And while this is not a post to bash or praise one grading style versus another, it got me thinking about someone else's hesitance to tell my son that he has failed at something.

I understand the reasoning. I myself have struggled with failure in my own life. Found times I have not done something, taken a risk, or completely avoided certain actions or paths for fear of failure. I’ve let the fear of failure drive me to say “no” much more in life than to say “yes.” I’ve struggled with thinking that I was a failure instead of just recognizing my failure as attached to a given event or situation that doesn’t encompass my entire being as a person.

I know how hard failure is to acknowledge.

And yet, as I have grown, I realize that there are things I’ve learned from failure, even good things, such as:

  • I am human. I am not perfect and I don’t have to pretend to be for others to like me.
  • My worth is not based on my failings.
  • I will not die from failure!
  • My past failures do not define me; I can go on and still be successful in life.
  • Without knowing and acknowledging failure, I won’t know the thrill or pride I could feel when I am able to accomplish a task and do it well.
  • Failure has shown me I don’t have to be good at everything. It’s okay to be good at certain things and not so good at others.
  • Failure has taught me to be honest in a way that nothing else has. When I can just look at those around me and admit, “I’ve failed at this," it releases me from thinking I have to be something I’m not. From pretending I'm perfect -- when the truth is, I am not. 
  • Failure has taught me compassion. Compassion for myself when I fail and for others when they do as well.  It's given me the ability to say "it's okay" and mean it.
  • And probably most importantly: God still loves me. No matter my failings. No matter my imperfections. And he will always, lovingly, pick me back up, take my hand and continue walking with me. 

And although I somewhat cringe at the idea that my children will experience the sting of failure, I know that it is a part of life they must go through for their own growth as people. I know the benefits they’ll gain when they pick themselves up and try again. I want to love them through their failures and not just teach them how to avoid it at all costs.

I want them to know failure is nothing to fear.

Without the sting of defeat, how would we know the joy of success?

This is the first in our "What I Want My Kids to Know About..." Series! If you have an idea about something you'd like you're kids to know that you've experienced, we'd love to hear from you. Check out our guest blogger guidelines here.


  1. Kendra, this is a really insightful post. I can only imagine that a parent would want to shield their child from failure. But I also understand about saying no to many things because I feared the idea of failure more than I valued learning through the experience. How wise of you to see the valuable lesson that failure teaches us all. Thanks for linking up in the BCW Sunday Share. Hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. Thank you for the comment Wanda. I appreciate your kind words. It's nice to know I'm not alone. Blessings to you too over Thanksgiving!

  2. Beautiful and encouraging Kendra. Thank you for posting !

  3. Hi Kendra! I am coming over from Wanda's blog.

    I love that line "I will not die from failure!" I was always so embarrassed to fail, and failure was not an option growing up. It's refreshing to read about your healthy attitude toward missing the mark. As long as I'm trying, I think I am winning :)

    Nice to meet you today!

    1. Ceil, Nice to meet you too! Thank you for commenting. I couldn't agree more!