The Learning is in the Struggle

I wanted to stand up and applaud last year when the principal of my daughter’s school encouraged the parents to let the kids struggle with their work. At the parent evening he acknowledged that it’s tempting to step in and help, but that the true learning comes from the struggle. When our kids struggle they sometimes succeed and they sometimes fail.

You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s worth repeating as we enter a new school year: everyone needs to fail in order to succeed. In fact, here are a few quick reads to catch you up:

The Art of Failure and Why It’s Good For You

Why Failure Can Be a Good Thing, Even When We Don’t Learn Anything From Our Mistakes

Failure is such a loaded word and the concept is stifling. And while it’s easy to say we should learn from our mistakes, it’s another thing to do it. The real trick in using your failure to help you toward success is to understand and embrace it - you don’t have to enjoy it, just use it. In fact, the anger, disappointment, or frustration you feel from failure is part of what helps you move forward even if you cannot improve the actual end result. And, remember you’re not a complete failure if you fail - you’re human!


Failures come in size XS to XXL. As children learn to work through frustration, they develop determination, persistence, perseverance, and a sense of humor. Try to impart to your children the importance of effort and how to celebrate the process, not only product. Remember that homework assignments and quizzes are a safe place to fail and a terrific chance to learn. Allow your children to make mistakes in these small steps toward a larger goal. As they approach tests with bigger stakes, it’s ok to point out the consequences are bigger, but it’s never do or die.

Have you ever applied for a job and not gotten it? Were you able to reflect on the reasons? Did you know the reasons? Did you keep trying? Just because you didn’t get one job doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to work, or can’t work. And, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot for the moon (your ideal job). It’s ok to be bummed and angry, but eventually you need to get back to applying and interviewing.

Failure is the perfect opportunity to apply reflective practice to improve your decision-making. Consider your next failure an opportunity, and see if that takes you further (or at least keeps you from beating yourself up). Help your child do the same. Each disappointing grade, lost game and fight with a best friend can be heartbreaking but also offers opportunities to grow and improve.