Seeing Failure in a New Light

Recently, during a conversation with some parents about the benefits of letting kids experience natural/logical consequences in order to develop motivation, several of the parents said this:

“Failure is not an option!”

Although I know that the parents who think, “Failure is not an option” do so because they want the very best for their kids, I’m concerned about what kind of message this sends to teens, especially teens with ADHD or other challenges–for whom ‘failure’ is likely a daily occurrence on many levels, both large and small.

The reality is that because we are human beings, failure is inevitable. So sending the message that failure isn’t an option—when the truth is that failure is bound to happen as a normal part of learning and growing—could be very confusing and potentially detrimental to your teen.

Although we adults see the difference between thinking “I failed” versus “I’m a failure”, teens (especially those with challenges like ADHD) have a hard time with this. If they see through your eyes that failure is unacceptable, it won’t be long before they see themselves the same way.

Something else to consider: Not only does what you think about failure affect your teen, but it also affects you! That’s because what you think about something determines how you feel, which then affects how you act or react, which then determines your results.

Example: consider how you would feel (and then how you’d react) when a failure happens if you think, “Failure is not an option” versus if you think, “Failure is a great opportunity for learning.” Different thoughts, different feelings, different reactions and different results.

Time for a re-frame!

If you find yourself thinking  failure is not an option, and it’s resulting in either you or your teen feeling bad or reacting badly or not getting the results you would like, I’d like to offer you some new thoughts to consider.

(And since I love inspirational quotes, I’m going to let some very wise words from some wise people do the talking):

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Confucius

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

“The one who falls and gets up is stronger than the one who never tried. Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying.” – Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar

“Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.” – Ben Carson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

“Failure is success if we learn from it.” – Malcolm Forbes


Of course no one wants their kids to fail! But the truth is that failure is going to happen; and how you think about it will determine how you feel and how you will react, as well as the results you will get.

I hope that one or more of the quotes above has helped you see failure in a different light. I believe that failure has a lot of important lessons to teach if you’re in the right frame of mind when it happens.

Which leads me to one last quote I want to share. It’s from the very wise author Maya Angelou and it’s something that I repeated often to myself after I failed and/or made parenting mistakes when my son with ADHD was a teen:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”