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The Gift of Failure

When I was in third grade, I had an assignment to make a musical instrument from materials I found at home. The requirements were straightforward; use only what we had at home, and it could be a string, percussion, or wind instrument.

I thought it would be fun to use fishing line and make a kind of harp. I asked my dad for his opinion about how to make my project. Faced with my request, my dad had two options. First, he could have given me very simple instructions and helped me use the more complicated tools. Second, he could have taken over the project and constructed the instrument the way he would do it with little help from me. Let’s just say that the instrument I carried to school a week later was a beautifully sanded, wood instrument that used a complex nut and bolt system to tune each of its six strings.

I was not alone. The majority of the kids in my class had parent-made projects. What did we learn from this experience? How did it really help us to develop our own problem solving skills? Did we actually learn from our mistakes and triumphs?

I often wonder what the teacher thought of all of those beautifully functional but clearly adult-constructed instruments. I also remember feeling bad for the kids that came to school with something they made by themselves.

But what if parents took a step back and let their kids try and sometimes fail? Would I have failed at that instrument project or any one of the countless other projects that my parents took a very active role in creating? And, if so, would it have been that bad? I will never know.

Jessica Lahey, educator, writer and mother, has a new and popular book titled The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, in which she addresses the positive aspects of letting our kids fail.

Lahey, a former middle school teacher, knows firsthand that parents are often not willing to let their kids make mistakes. This is because many parents view their kids’ failure as a reflection of their poor parenting skills. As a result, many parents are raising kids without the tools to cope with failure, or the ability to navigate the pitfalls sure to come. Lahey writes that this so-called “protection” actually does kids a great disservice. Kids learn better through failure, she write, and they will become more successful adults if they have experiences that push them forward rather than make them dependent on outside help. Lahey also says that when kids struggle with an unknown task or process they are being exposed to real learning. When we measure our kids only by their success and not the process in which they eventually succeed (even if it includes struggle and failure) we are telling them that it doesn’t really matter how they got there. As a result, kids become less interested in challenging themselves and more interested in protecting themselves from the possibility of failure.
Our intentions come from love, but at what cost to our kids?

So the next time you are at the playground with your kids, maybe take an extra step back and let them solve their own problems, working out their differences with friends on their own. Kids feel so proud of themselves when they accomplish things through their own efforts. And, who knows maybe those struggles on the playground will help them be less fearful offailure and more willing to face unknown challenges.

Special Event!

Join author Jessica Lahey on Tuesday, November 24 at 7:00 pm at the Kings English Bookshop for a reading and book signing.

Book: The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed
Date: Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Time: 7:00pm
Location: The King’s English Bookshop (1511 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84105)
More Details:

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed
By Jessica Lahey
Harper, August 11, 2015
The King’s English Bookshop
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