Help Kids Fail Better


I grew up in Chicago, and in my household (like in many at the time) we watched every single Chicago Bulls basketball game. I have a vivid memory of my parents hosting a party for game 6 of the 1998 finals versus the Utah Jazz.

Relatives of all ages were lined up around our family room, holding their breath. We were down by a point and Michael Jordan had the ball. With 5.2 seconds left, Jordan took a jump shot–he scored! The room went wild… we won our sixth world championship in eight years!!!

Everyone wanted to “be like Mike” at the time. I wanted to be like Mike. What I believed was that Jordan was talented and successful. I also believed he was born with those traits.

As you may or may not know, Michael Jordan was actually cut from the varsity basketball team when he was 15. He failed often. In fact, he famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Jordan has failed in many domains in life; he is human. I didn’t understand this until much later. I wanted to be like Mike, but I wanted to start with success. Because I was afraid to fail, I never tried. I didn’t try out for sports teams or any activity where my talent level could be quantified or judged.

I write this today because we receive many emails from parents asking for help with their kids that are afraid of failing. I have a suggestion: practice. Yes, we can get better at failing by practicing failure.

Over time, my relationship with failure has radically changed with practice. In fact, I often crave failure for the incredible learning lessons it provides.

So, how can we get our kids to practice failing? We’ve come up with a little game for you called Epic Fail. The idea is to practice being turned down, rejected, or just failing at a task. Kids then have a chance to reflect on the emotional experience of failure as well as learning lessons.

Grab the game as our gift here (pdf).

Once you see the game, you’ll get the idea of how to play. Feel free to replace cards with what feels age appropriate or child appropriate. 🙂

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