Promoting Development Through Failure

by | Mar 2, 2020 | Physical Therapy

There are many ways to help your child along with their development. As parent’s, we set up tasks for our kids to perform, we control their environment, we provide assistance whenever we can to show our kids what to do and we believe that we are helping but the one thing that is most difficult for many parents is allowing their child to fail at the task they are attempting. In physical therapy, I see this all the time. Kids will come in with delayed milestones and the primary reason for the delay is lack of exposure to the task or too much assistance from the parent which has taught the child that help is needed. Kids learn through exploration of their environment and trying new things on their own and we need to allow them to try these things. As a parent myself, I understand the urge to protect your kids from harm and it does take some effort to not intervene. For example, when I saw my son building a tower out of step stools then trying to scale that tower, I was tempted to stop him but instead I gave him some room to work and I watched. Sure, he fell several times and got upset but he always tried again and through his failures he learned how to get to the top of that tower and sit above his kingdom below. If I had intervened he would not have had to figure out how to stack the tower to make it stable, where to place his feet in order to get up without knocking things over or slipping, and he would never have had the sense of accomplishment and pride he felt once he finished his task. (I included a picture of one of his early attempts at a tower. I assure you they became more precarious over each attempt)

 Think about a child when they are first learning to walk. They fall constantly, but they get back up and try again and again until those magnificent first steps start and those first steps are a direct result from learning each time they failed. We will often see delayed walkers in physical therapy simply because the child was assisted too much or not allowed to try and walk independently due to hard floors or the child was moved to a push toy whenever they tried walking on their own due to fear of injury. Failure at attempting tasks is an essential part to any learning process and teaches us even more than what our successes do.  So, it may sound funny, but often times the best way to help your child succeed is to let them fail.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

Steve Sargol, PT DPT