During the years my wife worked as a college professor, on more than one occasion she dealt with parents of her students who wanted to intervene about their child’s lack of academic progress or failure to win an award. Yes, you heard that right! When that happened, I always wondered when those young people were going to have a chance to succeed or fail on their own.
I’m going to depart from my usual commentary on our theme for this school year to recommend a book to you that I read several years ago and encountered again recently – “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey. The thesis of the book is that children learn as much if not more from failure as they do from success – and we have to let them fail rather than protecting or insulating them from it.
We love our children and want to protect them from so much of the pain this world can inflict. But in the process, we often bulldoze every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing a smooth path we hope will lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we deprive our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient.
Every time we rescue, hover, or in some other way save our children from a failure or setback we’re telling them we think they’re incompetent or incapable and we teach them to be dependent on us. Our effort to rescue implies that we don’t believe our child can find a solution. Every intervention is a lesson lost.
Students need to fail so they can learn they can overcome a problem – because work and attention are more important than perfection or life’s longest winning streak.
I would encourage you to give “The Gift of Failure” a read. I think it’s a healthy wakeup call or reminder for all of us that loving our children sometimes means letting them learn the lessons only failure can teach.