Book Review: The Gift of Failure

It’s up to us. Parents have this ability to grant this freedom to fail.  Teachers have the ability to transform that failure into an education.  And together?  Together we have the potential to nurture a generation of confident, competent adults.
p. xxvii

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey was a GREAT read!  If I could pick one book to encourage ALL parents and teachers to read over the holidays, it would be this one.  This book articulated so much of the struggle that I see on a daily basis…both as a mom and as an educator…and really prescribed some great solutions.  This book is full of helpful information illustrating the issue and prompting great dialogue.  I really enjoyed reflecting over the decisions my mom made in raising my siblings and I as well as the influence of my own teachers in my life.  Many of them are still investing deeply in me!  My husband and I want our kids to be everything that God created them to be…whatever that is.  I don’t want to stand in the way of the refining and shaping that HAS to take place in order for them to grow and develop.

I highlighted several things while reading and posted my notes below.  Be aware…there are only about 3 sentences in the book I didn’t highlight!

  • Today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation. p. xi
  • We have taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success. p. xi
  • I never meant to teach my children to be helpless or fear failure, and a life of anxiety is certainly not what I envisioned for them. xiii
  • In the new normal, every moment counts, and the more successful our kids are as students, athletes, and musicians, the more successful we judge ourselves as parents. The race to the top starts when children take their first steps and does not end until a six-figure income and socioeconomic upward mobility are secured. p. xiii
  • In order to raise healthy, happy kids who can begin to build their own adulthood separate from us, we are going to have to extricate our egos from our children’s lives and allow them to feel the pride of their own accomplishments as well as the pain of their own failures. p. xv
  • Every time we rescue, hover, or otherwise save our children from a challenge, we send a very clear message: that we believe they are incompetent, incapable, and unworthy of our trust. Further, we teach them to be dependent on us and thereby deny them the very education in competence we are put here on this earth to hand down. p. xxi
  • Teaching has become a push and pull between opposing forces in which parents want teachers to educate their children with increasing rigor, but reject those rigorous lessons as “too hard” or “too frustrating” for their children to endure. p. xxv
  • In order to help children make the most of their education, parents must begin to relinquish control and focus on three goals: embracing opportunities to fail, finding ways to learn from that failure, and creating positive home-school relationships. xxv
  • It’s up to us. Parents have this ability to grant this freedom to fail.  Teachers have the ability to transform that failure into an education.  And together?  Together we have the potential to nurture a generation of confident, competent adults. p. xxvii
  • The less we push our kids toward educational success, the more they will learn. The less we use external, or extrinsic, rewards on our children, the more they will engage in their education for the sake and love of learning. p. 22
  • When a kid is fascinated by a task, he will be much more likely to persevere, even when he falters, even when the task gets more challenging, and yes, even when he fails to master the task the first time around. p. 23
  • First rewards don’t work, because humans perceive them as attempts to control behavior, which undermines intrinsic motivation.  Second, human beings are more likely to stick with tasks that arise out of their own free will and personal choice.  Given the choice between sticking with a “I have to” task or doing something else, most people would choose anything that is the product of their autonomy and self-determination.  p. 26
  • In classrooms where teachers establish respect for the educational process and make their expectations clear, students are able to relax and focus on learning. p. 30
  • Applying pressure in the form of control is the single most damaging thing parents and teachers can do to their children’s learning. p. 31
  • Be honest with your children.  Praise them for their resilience and the efforts they make to recover from their mistakes.  Above all, keep your eye on the prize: intrinsic motivation.  Protecting kids from the frustration, anxiety, and sadness they experience from failure in the short term keeps our children from becoming resilient and from experiencing the growth mindset they deserve. p. 36
  • Competence and mastery are incredible motivators. p. 36
  • Learning: encoding > consolidation > retrieval p. 40
  • When we admitted that we had been doing things all wrong, and that we believed that changing the way we parent would make them better, more independent, confident, and competent people, I think I caught them listening.  We told them that the more competent they became, the more we would let them do for themselves.  The more we saw that they could handle difficult decisions, the more we would trust them to make them. p. 43
  • The best part about being an autonomy-supportive parent is that all the negative stuff we do to get our children to do the things we want them to do–nagging, nitpicking, hovering, directing–stops. p. 47
  • The more independent you allow your children to be, the more independent they will become. p. 49
  • Controlling parents…
    • give lots of unsolicited advice and direction
      • Offer guidance when the child is stuck, and seize the big learning moments, but otherwise hold your tongue.  The mistakes she makes and corrects on her own are learning moments. p. 53
    • take over
    • offer extrinsic motivators in exchange for behaviors
    • provide solutions or the correct answers before the child has had a chance to really struggle with a problem
    • don’t let children make their own decisions
      • Decision-making is a complex process that takes lots of practice, so give your child that opportunity to try her autonomy on for size.  p. 56
  • Autonomy-supportive parents
    • guide children toward solutions.
    • allow for mistakes and help children understand the consequences of those mistakes.
    • value the mistakes as much as the successes.
    • acknowledge children’s feelings of frustration and disappointment
    • give feedback
  • Here are some ideas that can help reorient the way you praise your child, and may just help him adopt a growth mindset and strong sense of self-efficacy:
    • Praise for effort, not inherent qualities.
    • Adopt a growth mindset in your own life, even when it makes you feel uncomfortable.
    • Don’t reinforce maladaptive reactions to failure.
    • Make sure your child knows his failures do not lessen your love or opinion of him.
    • Let your children feel disappointed by failure.
    • Do not offer to rescue our child from the consequences of his mistakes.
  • Household participation is a first, and I’d argue essential, step toward building a purpose-driven and fulfilling life.  p. 80
  • As our children’s first teachers, parents are in the best possible position to teach kids how to focus on goals and face everyday responsibilities and challenges with courage and a good attitude.  If we are easily defeated, they will learn to become easily defeated.  Children who view obstacles as overwhelming and insurmountable give up on their goals.  Kids who have witnessed their parents’ resolve and resourcefulness, and been allowed to develop great problem-solving skills, don’t give up. p. 82
  • Better to understand now that perfection is not what holds a family together; the bond forged through shared struggle is what endures over the long haul. p. 93
  • “The cost of over-protecting is that the child does not develop the skills to fight back, speak up or get the hell out of the way.  If a child is taught by their parent that an adult will swoop in and fight for them or save them from any form of challenging situation, that child will keep expecting that to happen and not look for solutions to help herself.  That child will also not learn valuable communication skills that are necessary during the heat of emotional flooding during an argument.” Andrea Nair, psychotherapist and parent coach p. 99
  • “When these kids are not allowed to fall and pick themselves up, they never learn how to tolerate disappointment, manage their relationships, take responsibility for themselves, or cope with the anxiety of not getting what they want.  I frequently pose this question to parents who are afraid to let go: “How do you expect your child to be an adult if you never let them learn how?” Jennifer Harstein, adolescent psychologist p. 158
  • Until we step back and allow teenagers to live their own lives, surviving their own failures and earning their own triumphs, they won’t get a chance to experience their own sense of competence, competence they will need in order to be successful in their jobs, families, and yes, even their marriages. P. 159
  • Our job is not to protect them from their failures along the way, but to help them cope with setbacks as they occur, because when they move out of their childhood home and begin to forge their own path, they are going to need all the resources and tools we can give them.  The road ahead is theirs, not ours, and as tempted as we may be to pave the way for them so that we can live vicariously through their successes, it’s time to let them live their own lives, to unravel our own priorities and needs from theirs.  p. 160
  • In adulthood, the consequences are much more dire than a failing grade or an afternoon of detention.  High school is the last opportunity we have before our kids face the real world, with its real consequences. p. 162
  • Responsibility is best learned when parents step back at the high school level to let the student, by trial and error, advocate, motivate, activate for him or herself.  There should be a relatively moderate to high level of autonomy for a student at the high school level to begin to find his/her way to live and experience choice and to safely experience the consequences of personal actions.  The important thing is that Mom and Dad are nearby to support from the sidelines, but not to be lead counsel.  When parents take the supporting role, but balance it with the ability (and it is a learned skill for parents) to step aside and watch and welcome and expect the student to choose his/her way, students seem to make better choices relatively quickly if not automatically.  Students want to do well.  They want to make the right choice…but they also want to have the ability to choose. p. 163
  • FRESHMAN YEAR: Confusion and anxiety will give way to comfort and routine as the year wears on, but the sooner students learn to take advantage of the ready-made support system around them in the form of teachers, guidance counselors, and older students, the better.  These mentors are well versed in the many ways freshman failures can be repurposed into shiny, bright successes, so encourage your kids to use these people and this valuable year to their advantage. p. 165
  • SENIOR YEAR: Twelfth grade offers heretofore unknown heights of impendence, and every time I’ve taught seniors, they’ve reminded me of their need for it at every opportunity. They push their teachers away while simultaneously clinging to us for support, and this dance does not end until that 180th day. p. 170
  • What is lost, first and foremost, in all this conflict, is the trust we must have in each other to help children through their mistakes and emerge with an education.  Kids need the space to fail, and teachers need the time and benefit of the doubt to let that failure play out in the form of learning. p. 186
  • Mistakes are opportunities to grow.  Failures or unsuccessful attempts are the same, and students need to live through those experiences to develop a toolbox of coping mechanisms to lift them and move them forward. p. 187
  • So, if you are ready to forge a true partnership with your child’s teacher, and to give your child the tools that will help him later in life, here are some guidelines that will help you create positive partnerships with teachers and administrators from the very first day of school.
    • Show up at school with an attitude of optimism and trust.
    • Be on time.
      • Consider how well you could function if you woke up sleep deprived, then parked your car and ran straight into a presentation to the head of the company with no coffee, no time to take off your coat, no moment to take a deep breath and prepare for the day.  Kids who rush into school at the last minute remain frazzled for much of the morning.  Students who arrive on time—I mean early—and have an opportunity to take stock of the day are more prepared for class in terms of their materials and their emotional state. p. 189
    • Read the school’s attendance policy and follow it.
    • Be friendly and polite.
    • Project an attitude of respect for education.
    • Model enthusiasm for learning.
    • Make sure your first communication with a teacher is positive.
    • Invite teacher feedback.
    • Wait a day before emailing a teacher over a perceived emergency or crisis.
    • Let teachers know about big events unfolding at home.
    • Express interest in what is being taught.
    • Find opportunities to express gratitude.
      • “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Dr. Albert Schweitzer, p. 196
    • Begin with the assumption that you have an interest in common—the student.
    • Protect your child’s right to fail.
    • Give you child a voice.
    • Remember that truth often lies between two perceptions.
    • If you are concerned with a teacher’s actions, talk to that teacher.
    • The best time to conduct a parent-teacher meeting is at a scheduled meeting.
    • Read the school’s handbook and disciplinary policy.
    • Support the student-teacher partnership, even when it’s challenging. p. 203
  • Grades are an annoying and exhausting fact of life, and despite debates over more effective alternatives, they are not going away anytime soon.  But there are ways to promote intrinsic motivation and long-term learning in spite of them. p. 229
    • Keep grades in their proper perspective.
    • Emphasize goals rather than grades.
    • Seek feedback rather than scores.
    • Let kids steer their own course.
    • Find alternate decorations for the refrigerator.
    • Beware grading software portals.
      • Checking in on children’s grades is a type of surveillance, which is one of the forms of control that is often mentioned in the research as an enemy of autonomy and intrinsic motivation. p. 236
    • Reinforce failure as an opportunity.
  • “In order for my children to become masterpieces, their flaws must be allowed to remain, and serve as an essential part of their tale.” Richard Russo, author p. 243

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.