Raising my daughters to make mistakes

You might think that that’s a rather odd thing to say, that I’m telling my daughters that it’s okay to make mistakes. Of course I want them to do the right thing and be ‘successful’ but what I want them realise that sometimes we fail before we succeed. That so often things take time and mistakes are all part of the learning process. I can say, hand on heart, that I have learnt more from my business mistakes than from any business book.

As a child I was very aware that I had to work hard, do the ‘right thing’ and be careful. When everyone else was climbing the tree I was at the bottom wringing my hands and telling them all to be careful. I don’t think I’ve ever even tried to climb a tree. It got the point that I was scared of trying new things. I was scared of making a fool of myself, of getting it wrong and ultimately failing. I’d tied up my self esteem with being seen as successful and good, with being careful and not making mistakes. I’d be scared of trying a new activity just in case I either wasn’t very good at it or I messed up while learning.

I can see the same traits in my girls that plagued me as child and then even still as an adult. They give up before really even trying, they write themselves off as a failure before they’ve even begun. It hurts my heart to see my littlest girl realising that she’s not as good as her sister at something so she sits down and then refuses to try again.

Thinking back to my own childhood I can remember as a child praising my mum’s drawings and creativity and asking why she didn’t do more and why she didn’t pursue art. She told me that when she was at school there were other people better than her in her art class so she gave up. Rather than recognising her own talent and creativity she compared herself to others and stopped doing something she so clearly loved and had a talent for. How sad is that? Perhaps it’s a female generational thing in our family? Something innate in us, or maybe it’s down to parenting? While I don’t have the exact answer I do know that we are not alone in this, it seems to be a girl thing.

..the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to give up

I read a study by Carol S Dweck from the 1980s recently, it studied a group of 5th grade children. She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up–and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to give up. Bizarrely, it was the straight-A girls that showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than give up.

Girls seem to believe that they need to be innately good at something to achieve and succeed, whereas boys generally put in more effort and reapply themselves (if motivated). There’s something to be said for watching the way we praise our children. 

We need to be teaching our girls bravery NOT perfection

We love the film Zootropolis, for those that don’t know it’s a kids film where the main story centres around a young female rabbit that wants to become a police officer, yet there has never been any rabbit police offices in fact it’s just not seen as a job for small animals. She faces so much negativity and opposition, even inadvertently from her own parents yet she never gives up on her dream. She digs deep and works hard, she makes mistakes but she picks herself up and keeps trying. It’s such a fantastic message for children (and adults!) and even the albeit, very annoying, soundtrack has some great lines –

I messed up tonight
I lost another fight
I still mess up but I’ll just start again
I keep falling down
I keep on hitting the ground
I always get up now to see what’s next
Birds don’t just fly
They fall down and get up
Nobody learns without getting it won

I won’t give up, no I won’t give in
Till I reach the end
And then I’ll start again
Though I’m on the lead
I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail

How fantastic are they? I often remind my girls of this song when they are struggling with something or just want to give up – (I’m sure I’m very annoying to them!)

So going forward I am focusing on praising my girls’ efforts, positively reinforcing them when they try something new or put in the extra work, and when they pick themselves up and try again, so to speak! I don’t want them to have a fear of failure that stops them even trying, think how many opportunities can be missed when we have that kind of mindset. The sense of satisfaction that you get when you dig deep and be brave and then achieve is priceless isn’t it? I want that for my girls.

I’d love to know what you think


Can you relate at all?


Further reading and inspiration

This is the video that gave me the kick I needed to write this post.

Psychology Today -The Trouble With Bright Girls

(*The Perils of Promise and Praise, Carol S Dweck)

morganaRaising my daughters to make mistakes


Join the conversation
  • My Two Mums - December 12, 2017 reply

    I think this is great. I can relate. Though I am not raising a daughter, I was raised in the manner of if I couldn’t do something well it wasn’t worth doing. I was taught to quit whilst I was ahead and not to do something I needed to work super hard at. Now I am an adult raising my own child I am working hard to lose that feeling.

    morgana - December 12, 2017 reply

    Thanks so much for your comment. It’s such an eye opening moment when you take stock and realise this isn’t it, and the impact it has too. I’m so aware of it now and aware of it in my girls.

  • Hayley Smith - December 13, 2017 reply

    Oh yes I can totally relate to this, I think most of my childhood was plagued by comparing myself to others and thinking I wasn’t good enough. I try to be a little better as an adult but it’s hard work! We actually realised that Lucas was the same when he started school and he wouldn’t give something a go if he couldn’t do it perfectly first time, it led to a lot of meltdowns in class! School picked it up and they’ve worked hard to get him over that but it can still be a struggle, although maybe it’s more obvious in girls there will always be children out there who feel the same regardless of their gender. Whether it’s something passed down or not I don’t know, I was like that for as long as I can remember so it must be something innate! Fantastic post Morgana, as long as we are aware of these things we can always try to push out the comfort zone and teach our children to do the same xx

    morgana - December 20, 2017 reply

    That’s really interesting Hayley, I wonder if the study was replicated now if we’d see different findings? I could be more to do with societal expectations on children now and not something that is gendered.

  • Jenny - December 13, 2017 reply

    Oh fab post and so true for so many of us on how we were raised too not just how we are raising our own daughters. This is so important to try to find balance and support them where they need it. I am always feeling like I should do something or try something if I don’t think I will be good at it. It’s awful way to think and live. I wouldn’t want that for my own daughter either. It’s good to be aware and you reminding us all of that too. #wrc

    morgana - December 20, 2017 reply

    Thanks Jenny, you’re right it’s good to reflect on ourselves and how we parent at times.

  • Suzanne - December 13, 2017 reply

    I’ll have a watch of that You Tube clip when I get a chance because this topic fascinates me. My eldest is a high achieving perfectionist who has never really been used to failing in any way. I think that’s why it’s hard for the brighter ones to try something even if they don’t know that they’ll succeed, they aren’t used to the feeling that failure brings and it scares them. It’s hard as a parent, we are told to encourage our children to try new things, to dream big dreams, to reach for the stars, so we spend much of their childhood praising them, encouraging them to do just that, but then when the real world hits, the fear of failure creeps in and sometimes, this can lead them to fail spectacularly. It’s all a huge mental minefield! Obviously we’ve had a rather unusual time of it but this is a topic I’m really interested in. I do think that children need to fail when they are in the cocoon of the family home – we are then there to pick up the pieces and help them to navigate how to pick themselves back up with dignity and try again.

    morgana - December 20, 2017 reply

    It’s a fascinating premise isn’t it? I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with your remark about brighter children not being used to failure so when it does happen it’s actually a really scary and disconcerting feeling. I’d love to know what you think of the talk when you get around to watching it.

  • Kerri-Ann - December 14, 2017 reply

    What a thought provoking post Morgana. I think in some way my George suffers with this a little which we have only recently seen come out in the preparations for the nativity play or any concert at school. George very much has to try hard at everything he does in school. Outside of school like his drumming, swimming and football he really does excel but things don’t come as easy to him at school. I was always a trier and whilst I didn’t suffer with the doubt like you did I think George may be most like his daddy. Interesting to read others thoughts also x

  • Heledd - Running in Lavender - December 14, 2017 reply

    This is so interesting Morgana, my eldest has dyslexia but in contrast has a super high IQ – apparently something to do with one part of the brain over-compensating for the literacy and visual memory failure. Anyway, she is more like the boys in this study because she thrives on a logistical or complex challenge and has no self-esteem issues. She makes mistakes on a regular basis (due to her dyslexia) but has learnt to brush them off and try again. Her resilience is brilliant and something that I commend her on all the time.

  • Chloe: Picture Taker Memory Maker - December 17, 2017 reply

    Completely agree with all of this. I’m doing my best to raise my girls to be resilient, to know that its ok (essential even!) to make mistakes because it teaches you what doesn’t work so you can try again to figure out what does work. It’s not easy by any means, and I’m learning as much about myself along the way as I’m trying to teach them, and it’s a daily practice of thinking carefully about the words I choose to use with and around them, but it’s going to be totally worth it in the end if they grow up knowing that they are enough no matter what they can or can’t do, that their worth isn’t defined by their abilities.

  • Kerry - December 20, 2017 reply

    Charlie hates failing, so much so that she once had a huge tantrum over not being able to cut out a perfect circle. It made me so sad to see her put so much pressure on herself. I wish the way we educate children in school was a little more fluid and supported the bravery over perfection approach. I’m not sure it always does. Off to watch that video now. This kind of stuff fascinates me xxx

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