Teaching Children How to Accept Mistakes and Disappointment

By FCPS School Psychology Services
March 24, 2022

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We all want to see our children succeed. However, making mistakes and learning how to handle disappointment are valuable experiences for children. Here are some strategies for parents on teaching children how to deal with their mistakes in a healthy way. 

Show acceptance and empathy.
Not only is it important to teach children to accept their own mistakes, it is equally important that parents accept that their children are going to make mistakes, leading to failure and disappointment. Parents are encouraged to empathize and validate feelings of frustration and disappointment. Use language such as, “I can see you are disappointed and upset, I know you really wanted to do better.” By taking the time to talk with your children and recognize their feelings, it lets them know you are listening and are there to help. 

Model it.
Be an example of someone who makes mistakes and deals with them appropriately. Your children may see you as someone who is invincible. Be open to showing your children that everyone (even adults!) makes mistakes by willingly acknowledging your own mistakes when you are near or around them. Be willing to accept and even laugh them off. Talk openly through the steps you use to handle challenges. Ultimately, you want to clearly demonstrate to your children the same behaviors you would like them to demonstrate when they inevitably make mistakes.

Make it a teachable moment and give examples.
A child’s disappointment or mistake is an opportunity for parents to teach acceptance and problem-solving skills. It is important to explain that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. When your children make a mistake, ask them what lessons were learned? What did this experience teach them? What can they try differently next time as a result? Again...reinforce the idea that everyone makes mistakes. One way parents can do this is by providing examples of famous or successful individuals who previously experienced failure, disappointments, or mistakes in their life. Thomas Edison went through thousands of prototypes before successfully inventing an improved electric lightbulb. What if he had quit? Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team the first time he tried out. What if he had decided he was not good enough to play? These examples teach children that it is OK to make mistakes and that making mistakes does not mean they will not succeed in life. Instead, mistakes can help them continue to learn, grow, and persevere.

Step back and allow children to make mistakes.
While it can be difficult to watch children make a mistake and experience disappointment, they can only learn how to handle it through trial and error. There are various books, like Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, which emphasize the benefits of parents who allow their children to make mistakes or experience challenges and focus on offering support in working through it (as opposed to overly focusing efforts on denying children having to face difficult experiences). This sets children on the path to developing increased resilience and confidence to take on new challenges independently. 

Encouragement to try new things.
It is important to help children step out of their comfort zone and take some risks. Let children know that by only doing things they are already good at, they limit themselves and may miss out on new enjoyable opportunities. You can share that you will be available to offer support in tackling the new risk. We learn and grow by challenging ourselves with new experiences and working through them. This helps lead to a mastering of dealing with challenges and disappointment. 

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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