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“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” John C Maxwell

We have been failing since the day we were born. As babies, we made gurgling sounds until we could say our first words. We rolled, crawled, stumbled and fell before we learnt to walk.

At some point, children develop a fear of failure and forget that it is a natural and necessary part of learning and growing. As a parent of boys, it is important to teach your son not to fear mistakes but learn from them.

Here’s four reasons why boys need to fail to succeed.

Accept setbacks as a part of life

You can’t always get what you want. The Rolling Stones knew this and we all learn it eventually. The earlier your son learns that setbacks are a part of life, the better. The key is to improve how he deals with them. Can he learn from the experience? Is there another path to success? Perhaps he experienced the setback because he approached the situation in the wrong way. Every obstacle is an opportunity to pause, reflect and learn from the experience.

Build resilience

The simple act of dusting yourself off and trying again builds resilience. We live in a fast-paced world where competition is fiercer than ever before – your son will need resilience to persevere and be successful. Feeling disappointed and frustrated is normal and shouldn’t be suppressed. Teach your son to first acknowledge those feelings and why he feels that way, then make a plan of action to keep moving forward. Over time, he will develop strong resilience and get up faster when he falls.

Learn what works and what doesn’t

Thinking outside the box and being innovative inevitably means occasionally failing from the risks that you need to take. Innovators are going into unchartered territory, so of course there will be failures on the way in order to learn what works and what doesn’t. We can learn a lot from pioneers such as the late Steve Jobs about embracing failure. As a parent, you can use everyday problems around the house to get your son to try out different solutions to see which one works. This will also help him build higher level critical thinking skills over time.

Understand his strengths and weaknesses

Learning his strengths and weaknesses is another important reason for your son to embrace failure. Encourage him to reflect on failures to work out what he is good at and what areas he could improve on. Self-awareness is key to both professional and personal success. It’s not possible to know your weaknesses unless you experience failure.

Clearly define what success really is

Sometimes we are misguided with what success really is. There are times when we feel that we can never experience success in certain areas of life – it’s important to consider whether we are being fair in our own definition of success. We can often be our harshest critic. Defining success – in all areas of life – is key to leading a life of fulfilment.


It’s important to reinforce the message that failure is not a step backwards, but a stepping stone to success. If your son doesn’t get used to being outside his comfort zone, then he will never overcome his fear of failure, build resilience or establish his own definition of success. You can read more on this topic in this earlier blog.

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William Elder


Mr Alan Elder was born in Scotland and migrated to Australia with his parents at a young age. He attended The Scots College for all his schooling, graduating in 1944. He played 1st XI Cricket and was a member of the College Cadet Unit. After leaving school Mr Elder studied accountancy and retained a life-long love of the College, especially the Pipes and Drums. Mr Elder never married, however the significant bequest he left will allow his Scots family to remember him through the Lang Walker Business Centre.