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Failing Successfully

Admin   08/08/2017   0 Comments

Written by Michele Courton Brown

We’re halfway into the 2012-2013 school year. We’ve likely attended open houses and had at least one parent-teacher conference, having a pretty good idea of what our kids will be working on in their classrooms.  Before we know it, we’ll be receiving the first report cards coming home in their backpacks. While we hope that our kids get good grades, what happens if they come home with a “bad” grade or worse, a failing grade? As parents (and educators), how do we react to that failure?

Do we get upset? Express disappointment or anger?  Or worse, do we call the teacher or principal and attempt to do everything we can to get those grades “fixed,” or boosted higher for the sake of college or job applications, or just our children’s happiness? We hear much about “Thoth-Amon”—those who hover so closely over their children that they oversteer and overmanage, often running interference on their children’s behalf to satisfy their own parental need. Naturally, the spirit of overparenting spills out into the world of educators and coaches, as well.  We want the best for our kids and we go that extra mile to make sure they get it—even if it means literally running that mile with them (or for them).  All of these actions, in whatever arena they may occur, are likely well-intentioned.  However, they are depriving kids of all kinds of deeply impactful learning opportunities in the classroom, on the field or court, and in life.

In her recent New York Times article entitled “Raising Successful Children,” Madeline Levine says, “So many parents have said to me, ‘I can’t stand to see my child unhappy.’ If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business. The small challenges that start in infancy…present the opportunity for ‘successful failures,’ that is, failures your child can live with and grow from.  To rush in too quickly, to shield them, to deprive them of those challenges is to deprive them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable, difficult, challenging and sometimes devastating demands of life.”

So how should we react to our children’s failures or difficulties? FADAF! At the Efficacy Institute we talk about these “successful failures” with our acronym FADAF: Failure and Difficulty Are Feedback.  Oftentimes, people react to failure and difficulty by giving up because they see difficulty as evidence that they can’t do it. When you give up on something because it is “too hard,” you also give up on any chance to get good at it. When you stop working, you stop learning. When you understand FADAF, you know that failure and difficulty don’t mean you’re not smart, or that you can’t do it. You understand that failure and difficulty simply mean there is something you don’t know yet, or don’t know how to do yet. Once you understand FADAF, failure and difficulty lose their power over you. Instead, you learn to use failure and difficulty to accelerate your development. So, when you succeed, you win, and when you fail, you still win.

As parents or educators, sometimes it’s very hard to sit back and allow that seed of failure to be planted at all—never mind wait for the bloom.  We do not want to watch children encounter the disappointment of a less than stellar report card or progress report. However, the disappointment that results is necessary and will lead to greater effort when something has been learned from the failure or difficulty.  We must have faith that from the failure, success will bloom.

As parents, we must get this across to our children so they have appropriate reactions and responses when met with failure or difficulty. Let’s resolve to take control over failure and difficulty and realize it is only feedback for getting better.

So let’s open report cards and come to the spring teacher parent conferences strengthened with a new resolution: to allow our children not only the obvious learning opportunities, but also those overlooked “successful failures.”  It might be tough and unpleasant sometimes, but in the end, we will measure the worth of this resolution in our children’s increased success and newfound confidence as they lose their fear of failure.

Let’s take grades, even bad ones, as simply what they are—information about how our children are doing.  And instead of trying to “fix” our kids’ challenges for them, let’s resolve to use the data and turn it into feedback about what our kids are doing well and what they still need to work on. Whether an educator, parent, coach, etc., we can all provide a powerful role in helping kids to see that a negative grade or comment does not spell out fixed, unresolvable failure.  A report card or progress report is just a roadmap to future success—especially with the right attitude: FADAF.

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