The Value in Teaching Kids How to Fail and How to Get Up

A few weeks back, we celebrated my son’s birthday. He’d been rolling around on one of those gliders for a couple of years and was really ready to make the leap to pedals. So on his birthday, we went to the store and picked up his bike. We asked the guys at the shop to skip the training wheels and put on a bell. If the kid was going to have a bike, well then he was going to have a BIKE! :)

When we got home, I ran inside to put a few things away, and when I came back outside, my husband was jogging next to our son as he rode.

Keep your eyes forward.

Keep pedaling.

When you look down, you lose your balance.

Keep pedaling. When you pedal, you keep your balance.

With no training wheels and a little wobble, the kiddo was riding a bike for the first time. And then it happened…he fell. 

My son lost his balance on the bicycle, and in what looked like a bit of frustration, he let the bike fall to the ground, stood up, and then threw his hands in the air, “Yes!” I shook my head confused. Did I miss something? What kid falls off his bike the first time and celebrates? My husband who was standing next to me yelled, “Good job falling, buddy. You did it just like we talked about. You let the bike fall and focused on standing. Good job. Now next time you might fall too and that’s okay, but you did a good job.” My son gave him the thumbs up and got back on the bike.

Get your balance with both feet flat on the ground.

Put one foot on the higher pedal.


And he was off again.

I looked at my husband and back at my son, and in that very emotional moment, I thought about how important it is to teach kids how to fall and how to get up. By doing just that, my husband had taken the fear out of falling.

Late last week I got a call from one of my families. The daughter received her report card and was devastated by her grade in Geometry. Accustomed to having a^2 + b^2 = c^2 , she’d never been in a situation where the output didn’t directly correlate with the input. Dad wondered if it made sense to drop the class since according to his panicked daughter, this class would ruin her chances to get into college. In my conversation with the dad, I assured him that one six week grade wasn’t going to tank his daughter’s chance of getting into college, but that this experience could be a huge growth opportunity for her. What she needed was for him to coach her through this fall. She needed him to sit side by side and reflect on what caused the fall and to think through how she could get up. Put both feet flat on the ground, then put one foot on the higher pedal and push.  She needed him to teach her that falling is a part of riding, and that when it happens, there’s a process to getting up–that you can learn what caused the fall and prevent it from happening again. We walked through what that conversation could look like, and Coach Dad was off.

So many times when our kids fail (not a typo), they panic and we rush to make them feel like everything’s okay. Everybody falls. It’s okay. But we miss the opportunity to teach them that failing reveals how and where we can be better. We miss the opportunity to be Coach Mom and Coach Dad, to run alongside them and talk them through doing the hard work of studying differently, managing their time, or finding strategies to fight through a tough class with a seemingly unreasonable teacher. Not only do our kids need to know that falling is a part of life, they also need us to teach them how to rebound, so when we aren’t around, they know how to do it for themselves. 

This is what I refer to as grit: the willingness and commitment to not only get up from a fall, but to have had so much practice at falling and learning from our falls, that we, like my son, throw up our hands in celebration at the milestone ahead. This is what our kids need from us. They need us to put on our “Coach” hats and help them see the value in their mistakes. Let’s teach them how to get up after a fall and develop in our kids the skills they’ll need to face the world undaunted by temporary failure. Let's arm our kids with confidence in their ability to get up, put both feet on the ground, find the highest point of leverage and push. 

Here’s to always being our kids' first and best teachers/coaches!

This week’s post was inspired by Have our kids gotten soft? Five ways to teach them grit found yesterday on