What's the best thing a parent can say to a child that has failed to achieve a goal?

Believe it or not, that's a pretty complex question because much depends on the age of the child, the goal, and the consequences for not reaching the goal.

Sometimes children will set unreasonable goals for themselves. "I'm going to read 150 chapter books this year." They hold on to the goal and then parents have to help them think in terms of what an achievable goal is while teaching them to give themselves credit for what they managed when they're disappointed for not meeting the goal. "Fifty chapter books is almost a book a week! That's huge! I hope you're really proud of that. If you still want to work up to 150 books, why not take it a little slower? There are 52 weeks in a year and we know you can read 50, so why not make your next goal to read two more than last year?"

A 12-year-old who runs for student council and loses is going to be very disappointed. There are important lessons to learn in the defeat, but most likely there are not serious consequences.

A high school senior whose goal is a 3.8 gpa in order to qualify for an academic scholarship to an elite college who gets a 3.75 will be devastated. There are still good lessons to be learned, but the consequences in the first scenario are disappointment and a change in life trajectory in the second.

For that reason, anytime my children announce a goal, I always ask them what Plan B is. I want them to work toward the main goal, but you never want to be caught without a backup. Backup plans take the sting out of failure. "If I don't make student council, I am going to play basketball."

"If I don't get a 3.8, then I've decided to attend State U." (Having the elite option removed will still hurt, but they, not circumstance, made the choice of which school was their second choice.)

When you start with a Plan B in place, there is room to experiment, explore, and fail.

Then you ask, "Did you do your best?" If the answer is yes, they really can't expect more from themselves. If it's no, life lesson learned.

Next question: "Are you proud of your efforts?" If the child is proud of his or her effort, then dignity is still intact. Having your dignity in the face of failure is a beautiful thing.

If there's another option to meet the goal, then you ask, "Is this still a goal and what are your plans to meet it?" Help the child work through what it takes to finish a mini-marathon in terms of training. Offer the support you are able, perhaps lessons, tutoring, etc. If the goal is no longer of interest then tell the child to let you know when s/he has a new goal. Subtly insisting on a new goal or a next goal keeps the child from giving up and keeps momentum throughout life. All of us should have at least one goal we're working toward all the time if we don't want to stagnate.

Finally you end with, "I love you no matter what, and even though X happened (or Y didn't happen), I think you are amazing!" It's crucial after failure that children feel loved and secure. It gives them a safe place to land and a legitimate springboard back into the stormy sea of "I want to ...."


First off, with the exception of the youngest, the children I have raised have mostly been overachievers.
So, yes... there's plenty "goals" that didn't get "achieved".

We are also fans of the movie "Princess Bride".

When things don't go as planned, with the results ending good or bad, we tell each other "Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I will most likely kill you in the morning."

After all, we do learn from the results... not from the effort put into it.
The hard part is having children appreciate the journey.
They tend to remember the results.

So, I have learned to make the results as learning experiences.

By the way, our response to the above would be as expected: "As you wish."


I would never use the word "fail". I would ask them how they feel about not accomplishing the goal and if they believe they had tried their best. I would tell them that their best is all they can do and provide comfort and encouragement and discuss with them what can be done to help them get there if they want to try again. Analyzing the situation in a constructive way and praising what was good should help make it easier to review what mistakes to avoid next time around. Also explain that every effort is a learning experience. I am not a parent of human beings, only animals, but I know how I would have liked to have been treated by my parents and have worked with children and adults trying to achieve musical goals.


Everything will be OKAY.

What's gone wrong once can go right a second time.

A person who is magically gifted at something misses out on the most important lesson the non-gifted are blessed with; LEARNING HOW TO FAIL.

You just had high expectations of how things should go. Nothing works like that.

Never give up.

Failing is just as much a part of life as succeeding.

Take to moment of failure to learn something important. Not just how to do things right the second time, but to learn how to COPE because it will surely happen again. :)


Did you give it your best shot ?

If the answer is YES and you failed, do you know WHY ?

Given what you know NOW, is it worth trying again ? Or do you want to attempt something new ?

There's no disgrace in failing if you gave it your best. Feel disappointed if you want. But sadly that's life !

But remember, Albert Einstein could have remained a Clerk in that Patent office. Richard Branson may have gone to work for someone else had his record business not taken off.


There is no win or lose only win or learn. What can they learn from the situation? How did they react? When was another time they didn't reach their goal. Share with them what you have learned through living. AmmaBev


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