The Powerful Lesson We Can Teach Our Daughters About Failure — And How to Teach It Effectively

For years playing soccer growing up in Connecticut, I dabbled in different positions on the field. But time and time again, I threw my long brown hair into a ponytail and headed toward the end of the field to step into my role as goalie. With each shot, I was the only one standing between the change in score — sometimes I would succeed and other times I wouldn’t. Regardless of the outcome, though, I knew Dad would have the same look in his eyes standing on the sidelines. I didn’t need any words, the stare said it all: “I’m proud of you, and you’re doing great out there, Em.” 

I was lucky to have such positive reinforcement game after game from my biggest fan. For a lot of girls coming of age into their teen years, failure is a really scary thing. Between ages 12 and 13, the number of girls who say they are afraid to fail increases by 150 percent, according to YPulse and The Confidence Code for Girls. 

“We learned from our skinned knees [that] each so-called failure teaches us something,” says Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed, and author of upcoming book Why Will No One Play With Me?.Developing grit and resilience happens when girls of any age learn that she can problem solve and that most mishaps can be fixed; taking ingredients that life gives you and learn to cook a dish to create your own sustenance with whatever is in life’s pantry.”

Athleta Girl is a strong example of a brand leading the charge on reframing this conversation around failure. They’re encouraging girls to let failure fuel them, to get back out there and keep at it because that’s how they find out what they’re capable of — which is pretty much anything. To help move this conversation forward, Athleta Girl is partnering with Movemeant Foundation to fund 30 Meant to Move grants. These grants help girls take their game to the next level, building their confidence through the positive power of sport.

In addition to Athleta Girl’s initiatives, there are several ways parents can help take the fear out of failure and encourage their daughters to stay in the game. Here, experts weigh in on how to reframe failure, inspire young girls and build their confidence. Because our daughters should be raised to see opportunity around them everywhere.

Encourage problem-solving

As parents, it can be tempting to put on your superhero cape and solve your daughter’s problems for her. Instead, try encouraging her to problem solve and find solutions for herself. “Whatever the problem, whether it’s an argument with a friend or a missed school assignment deadline, parents should take a step back and allow their child to deal with the challenge and search for a solution,” suggests Dr. Jeff Nalin, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, founder and executive director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center. “It’s acceptable to offer guidance along the way…Every misstep is a learning opportunity.”

For example: Say your daughter has one day to come up with a school science project idea. Rather than spoon-feeding her something from back in your glory days, encourage her to brainstorm by opening her textbook and jotting down some ideas. She may be surprised by what she comes up with. And once she lands on a project idea, avoid the temptation to steer the project and instead let her develop those leadership skills to own the project from start to finish. 

Get curious

By asking your daughter questions when something doesn’t go as planned, you have the opportunity to help her take away learnings from a less-than-ideal situation. “Some good examples are ‘what did you learn,’ or ‘what is important about this mistake?’” suggests Maguire. “There’s no right or wrong answer in these open-ended questions, which are meant to help your child dust up.” 

For example: Did she lose her lunch money? Rather than getting frustrated, ask her what she can learn about the mishap for next time. Soon enough, she’ll be suggesting the two of you go out and buy a pint-size purse for safe-keeping.

Seek out resources

Understand that it’s okay to not have all of the answers; parenting is hard and you’re not alone! Lean on reputable brands that do their part to inspire and cultivate strong women by offering helpful tools and resources

For example: Athleta Girl collaborates with Girls Leadership, a 501(c)3 organization that equips girls with the skills to exercise the power of their voice. One of the ways they’re working together to do that is by encouraging girls to stay in sports. They recently shared three steps to help girls stay in the game, which you can find on their website.

Listen to how you speak to yourself

Lead by example, and aim to speak to your daughters the way you want them to speak to themselves. “This, along with being comfortable in their own skin, will help them not to personalize setbacks,” says Lisa Choquette, LCPC, owner of Vibrant Mind Therapeutics, LLC.

For example: If you’re bogged down about how technical malfunctions affected a big presentation at work, practice what you preach with your daughter and focus on how you’re going to learn from these setbacks and make the next round even better. When your daughter hears you speaking in failed terms, she may be likely to mimic the same. But if you speak to your own failure in constructive terms, she’ll follow that lead.

Focus on effort, not praise

Girls should be praised because of their efforts, not their abilities, suggests Nalin. “Children who are constantly praised become dependent on positive feedback, using it as validation,” he says. “It is much better for children to gain confidence by overcoming failure rather than being told how great they are.”

For example: Did your daughter go out on the soccer field for her youth league, but not score the winning goal? Regardless of points on the scoreboard, reiterate the value of showing up, putting her best food forward, and being a critical part of a team. 

This post was created by SheKnows for Athleta Girl.

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