T Nation

Dads: How to Model Failure/Struggle/Overcoming for Your Kids?

My three kids (7 and younger) all react poorly to failure. Losing a game? Not “getting it” when practicing/drilling an activity? Having a hard time with homework? These situations have often been leading them to melt-down lately. So my wife and I have been asking, what are we doing wrong that the kids don’t know a) how to fail and get back up, and b) that it’s not only OK, but totally NORMAL and NECESSARY, to attempt something out of reach ->fail ->adapt->overcome->succeed.

This seems like a good place to ask because the very nature of training with weight exemplifies this. I can’t lift the weight I want to lift. So I try anyway, and I know I’ll fail, and that failure makes my body grow, and eventually I will lift it. Not only is it OK to fail, it is GOOD to try things that you will fail at, so eventually you become capable.

I’m very good at a lot of things, and don’t typically dwell on my failures and rather, find the positives in my successes. Perhaps this has set a high bar for my kids that they think “Daddy never fails, I shouldn’t either”? So lately I’ve been letting them know EVERY TIME I “fail”: “Daddy tried to fix the sink, and IT LEAKED! Look what a mess I made! That’s OK, I’ll try again!” and things like that.

So was curious what some of the dads here do, if anything, intentional or not, to model failure/struggle/overcoming for their kids, and any advice?

I don’t know everyone here, but tagging a few dads I’m aware of like @dagill2 @T3hPwnisher @alex_uk @ChongLordUno @flappinit and feel free to tag anyone else with relevant experience. Also @Bagsy because while definitely not a dad, she is knowledgeable about parenting and child development for other reasons.


The number of people in the real world that avoid or have outright despair about a problem always astounds me. If you can talk to them and show accountability/ownership of the problem and make it clear you can and will overcome it, it will out you a long way forward. Showing them that there are steps to take and you must take those steps will make them leaders in today’s observer/post about it on social media society. The other thing is that better is better, even if not perfect.

Practice this in games and in play. That’s what it’s for.

Reward effort, especially in light of major difficulties more than success which is more or less effortless. Teach them that it’s ok to fail, it’s just not so ok to give up and take the path of least resistance when things get tough.

Teach them that it’s much better to ask what they may regard as a silly question to enable success than to try and blag their way through something.

Teach them ,(probably when they are fair bit older) that living with the ghost of what could have been is much better than living with the knowledge that you could have achieved something really awesome but didn’t have the necessary courage to make it happen!

Well said, strongmangoals. And

Is so true. I’ve come to see the value in kids just "playing " because its practice for life!

Gorillamon thanks, im taking that to heart.

That bit especially because it may be where I’m letting them down. Maybe I’m focusing praise on results instead of on effort and if I am, I can change that.

They’re trying to emulate and impress what they see as an extraordinary person (you).

One of the best pieces of advice Ive gotten on this was from my therapist. He said that I should fail somehow (not necessarily on purpose) as we all often do, then acknowledge and apologize for it. Nothing profuse or disproportionate. Just like “Oops, sorry!” and move on.

I’ve even botched a few things on purpose here and there like a tune up, so that the kiddo isn’t perpetuating an unachievable, imaginary ideal.

But many kids are naturally competitive, eager to please and extremely myopic, so it’s a work in progress, but it has worked very well.


I just let the meltdown happen. I don’t let them give up - they can scream and cry and say they don’t wanna do it- a few months ago it was bike riding and now it’s reading - and it’s okay, I don’t yell back, I speak very calmly and slowly and I just let them know they can take as long as they want, but they’re not doing anything else until they keep trying. When they do I’m super supportive and give them lots of encouragement, and then I don’t go long enough to elicit another fit.

The cycle might go: 20 minutes of reading → frustration → fit → 10 minutes of talking/time out → take 3 really deep breaths → 15 minutes of reading with a LOT of positive reinforcement → cut it short and let them do something else.

Kids are REALLY good at manipulating their parents - way better than we are at manipulating them. Getting angry or frustrated at them is detrimental and useless, but refusing to negotiate or budge shows consistency. They will say or do anything to stop doing something hard, sometimes. Calm, collected, even-keel, even when you want to murder them. When we stop trying, it’s on my terms, not theirs.


Thanks for the tag @jdm135 - I don’t have any advice! It’s something I struggle with as well, I lack patience with my kids lack of resilience, it is highly frustrating, mostly because I’m never asking them to do anything thats outside of their abilities and half the time they aren’t willing to try the other half they are giving up too easily.

It’s not all the time and my kids are awesome but that’s one area I really do struggle to help them with, I think I just wrongly assumed it would come naturally.

I think some of the answers here are excellent and will be useful to me, @flappinit advice is probably something I sort of do naturally anyway, but maybe with less patience and more grumpiness which kind of defeats it. That happens so easily because:

This is just all 100% true!


I won’t give any “do X” advice because I’m not and probably never will be a parent, but I’ll say some things anyway:

You mention some contexts where your kids have meltdowns. Maybe it’s a general resilience issue, maybe it’s not. It sounds like you’re already trying to show that failure is okay and often good. I think you should keep doing that.

Is it possible that your kids haven’t found something intrinsically motivating enough for them to show grit? Letting kids have the meltdown, quit the activity after a few tries, and find something totally different to do, which could cultivate greater perseverance and drive, might help. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try that activity ever again, but kids can be fussy sometimes (as you and every parent knows). Obviously they don’t have much leeway with homework, so I’m thinking more in terms of outside activities there.

Is it possible that a lot of those things are intrinsically motivating for you? Some people can get frustrated when failing at a different activity they don’t like one bit. So, they’ll give up almost immediately rather than keep trying. Just throwing out an alternative here. If they do that with everything in their life, then yes, maybe they’re a quitter who needs to learn that giving up at every opportunity is a poor strategy.

Wasn’t tagged and definitely not a dad, but I have some thoughts. Pls ignore if they don’t make sense

  1. I wish my dad had been on this forum. He could have learned a lot from the ppl here, including you. Your level of self awareness is amazing and the fact that you’re asking for advice shows character and that you care.
  2. It sounds like you’re doing things right, especially this:

As others have said, rewarding effort rather than results is the key, especially since they are so young. No experience , but it’s what the research points to. Again, it’s great that you’ve identified this problem so early.
3. Are you or your wife making comparisons to yourselves, especially when frustrated with your kids. For example saying, “when I was your age…” maybe they are too young for that to be happening, but just a thought. My mum used to do that a lot and it definitely made me feel inadequate as well as resistant.
4. Idk what communication btw you and your kids are like, but I’d be careful not to give them the impression that there’s something wrong with them as ppl. Kids are very perceptive and will pick up on the smallest cues.

Mom of two now adult children…

I recommend Grit by Angela Duckworth. More specifically implementation of her , “one hard thing rule.”

I won’t detail the rule here, you can google it. I choose the violin. I have no musical training or aptitude. My kids hear me practice every day and hear me suck…and hopefully get better.

I didn’t choose anything fitness related because I’m comfortable with sports even though I’m hardly great. The violin makes me vulnerable.

Good luck.

Again, I’m not a parent, and I’m not judging anyone (nor do I have any room to do so) for taking different approaches with their kids. You may even have had success that way, which is awesome. But I would like to point out the work of David Epstein, who counters Duckworth’s strategy in his most recent book.

I haven’t read thanks for the information. I suppose I can’t say if the one hard thing has worked for me—I still
Suck at the violin! But my kids are doing good.:slight_smile:

I will add one more thought to the discussion—not sure where you live but if your kids have been out of school and isolated from their peers that could be affecting them. When my kids were little, I could not get one of them to cross the monkey bars—-first day of school guess who came home and said they did it.

1 Like

I can wholeheartedly say that trying lots of things in my childhood worked very well for me. Even today. That’s why Epstein’s work resonated with me. I’m probably turning this discussion into a specialization vs generalization topic when it probably shouldn’t be, but as one of the younger people here, maybe my ramblings could be useful?

I was never forced (I know that’s not the right word here) to do any activity. I actually started off in dance and gymnastics in my earliest years, but I quit after a few years. My parents didn’t care even though they enrolled me in those things in the first place (gotta try something). Soon I found my sport of choice and dedicated a decade to it because it simply fit me better. I was still pretty young at this point. In fact, I eventually found that my personal decision to hyperspecialize in this sport limited my future prospects there, but I digress.

Again, my parents never decided to keep me enrolled in anything. I never had the desire to quit playing that sport like I did with others. In this case fit looks like grit. I probably would have been miserable if my parents kept pushing the gymnastics/dance/etc.

Outside of athletics I also tried lots of things of my own accord. I was never forced to deliberately practice or study something, yet I still found things that never made me even consider quitting. I don’t think I’d be in my current position if that weren’t the case.

@jdm135 I regret that a lot of what I said does not address your question about modeling overcoming for your kids. I think I know a tiny bit more about your family than other posters here, so I’ll also say this: my interests were/are very different from my parents’. Your kids might be too young for this to apply, but I still want to share that. I don’t want to blame everything on that specific commonality between your family and me. It’s not advice either. Still, I’m confident that my “grit” never would have shown had my parents never let me explore things they probably never considered at any age.

1 Like

Yeah, I should clarify that when I talked about making them keep trying, it’s not for something that just I want them to do, it’s something that THEY want to do. For example, my son WANTED to learn to read, but where he balked was putting in the work to do so. Now that he’s seen me skateboarding (and falling all over the place), he wants a skateboard for his birthday, and he’ll get one, but he’ll probably try to give up on the way to learning how to ride it well, and that’s where I’ll push him. I’m not enrolling them in spelling bees and doing marathon spell sessions with crying kids over here, haha. Just thought I’d add that on because you made a good point - they can ask me to do most anything that they want, and I’m all for it, but where I step in and push them is when they give up just because something’s hard.


“I’ll work hard at it because I like it” isn’t grit. Grit is working hard at a thing, through multiple failures, until the thing is done right simply because that thing needed doing. At least that is my understanding of the concept. I may very well be wrong.

I’m not sure if it can be learned or not. I’ve either gotten much more “gritty” in the last ten years, or the scope of things that intrinsically motivate me has expanded quite a bit. I honestly can’t tell.

I’m not even sure that grit is actually a thing; the people we consider to have high levels of grit may just have a more basic level of intrinsic motivation than others (which I guess you could say is just petty semantics). I’m sure there are studies on this, and I’d be happy to read any that someone feels like linking.

Anyways, I appreciate your idea, because it’s something I wonder about and struggle daily with my kids (19 boy, 10/7/4 girls) as well.

1 Like

Sounds like helping them over a hump. They hit a hard spot, you encourage them to keep digging.

I’ve run into that with my kiddo on bike rides. We’re miles out, and he gets bored or frustrated or something and breaks down.

Well what are you gonna do? Live there on the bike path? We chill, get a drink, eat some gummies and just generally collect ourselves. In ten minutes problem solved and we’re in the wind.

I’ve seen a few supercoach parents in my time grind the joy and life out of kids in an attempt to achieve some kind of “greatness” for lack of a better term. It was ridiculous. They weren’t supporting their kid through a tough spot, they were putting them through the wringer.


Bless you, bro. You’re dealing with 4 completely different life stages, all involving completely different challenges, simultaneously. That takes grit for sure.

1 Like

I don’t think Duckworth advocates that children specialize or only do one thing. Also, she makes clear that the child chooses the thing. And she specifically recounts the number of things her daughter tried before settling on her thing.

I haven’t read Epstein but I agree with the concept of exposing children (as much as time and resources allow) to many different disciplines and activities.

I read Grit when my kids were in high school. At that time I was hearing, “I don’t like math. I’m not good at science.”

I felt my job as a parent was to keep as many doors open for my children as a I could. It was true that reading and writing came easier to them or at least that they had more success in those disciplines. And they are the children of liberal arts majors Philosophy for me. English for my partner.

I did not force them into math or science ventures. I just made them read grit (family book club) , and I took up the violin. :wink: Grit has lots of stories of folks experiencing success after initially struggling at some thing.

Anyway, Now, I have one who wants to study engineering and one studying biology. They may not stay in those disciplines and that’s fine. They get to choose their lives. But they believe they can be successful in those disciplines now, and I think that’s cool.

1 Like

To clarify, I can’t say the one hard thing rule has worked for me because i still can’t play the violin for shit and i often think about quitting.

1 Like

I must say that reading Grit really changed my life

I’ve not read Epstein’s book but I’m definitely interested

Wow, I wish my parents took that strategy…

I’m curious. What differences did you notice, if any, between raising your boy and your girls.

It’s behind a paywall, but the abstract does a pretty good job of summarizing. There are many others.
I think there’s a large “nurture” component, but even so, I’m not entirely convinced that nature doesn’t play a role. I’ve always noticed that mum and I approached things very differently than my dad and brother. We’d dive in deeply into everything we do while little bro and dad were happy to dabble/quit when things get boring/hard. I personally hate competition and prefer to push myself. For example, when I ran XC, I’d love practice and often wanted more work, but hated racing. Same with grades. I’m willing to spend 2hrs every day over break to study math but hate grades.
This is obviously only n= 4

This brings up a very interesting point. Could kids have different tolerance levels for being pushed?

@Bagsy @omats Maybe a more laizze faire approach worked so well with you guys because you guys are much more self aware and intelligent than most? I have a very mature and brilliant friend who’s parents “let her be” and she was self motivated, found her own internships/opportunities, got into a very prestigious uni without much help…
On the other hand, I don’t think I would have succeeded without my mum watching over me. I’m self motivated, but not self aware. Case in point, I convinced mum to let me do the minimum in maths and now I regret it. I tend to avoid variety. My little bro is very self aware, but seems to have trouble with intrinsic motivation. Maybe that’s due to my parents, but who knows
Dad had a bad habit of doing stuff for us rather than teaching us

Just rambling