I remember when my son was first learning to walk. He would totter all around the house, and he fell a lot. Suddenly coffee table corners and doorknobs transformed into dangerous hazards, threatening bruises and black eyes with every wobbly step. When he fell, he would look up at me, searching for my reaction. He was trying to figure out how he should respond to the new sensation of falling short of his goals. It took everything I had not to react. A few times, I had to sit on my hands and slap a fake smile across my face when he took a particularly hard tumble and just say, “Whoops! You’re okay, buddy! Pick yourself up!”
Other family members weren’t so good at being this laid back. I remember having to coach both sets of grandparents, helping them perfect their “You’re okay!” faces. I knew, though, that this was just the beginning of teaching my son how to be resilient.
As my son grew and mastered walking, he found many other things that were difficult. He realized that even though he could go pick up his water bottle, he still had trouble getting the lid off. When he got yogurt on his hands from feeding himself, it was really hard to get them clean again. Some doorknobs could be tricky if they were shaped differently from what he was used to. My instinct to jump in and fix things for my child continued to grow, but I strived to suppress it.
In letting my kid navigate these trials by himself, I wasn’t aiming to be a mean parent. Every hardship I let him suffer through was only to foster his resilience and teach him that it’s okay for things to be hard, and it’s okay to fail.
As a middle school teacher, I observe first-hand what happens when students are afraid to fail. Many times, when I present a difficult question or problem, kids are reluctant to even attempt to answer it because they are so afraid to be wrong. If everyone were afraid to fail, think of all the inventions and companies we wouldn’t have. There would be no Microsoft if Bill Gates had quit after Traf-O-Data. There would be no light bulb or phonograph if Edison hadn’t patented over a thousand different inventions in his work to improve the lives of people all over the world. Failure is a necessary component of innovation, and it should not be something our children fear.
It’s hard to watch my son fail. As an adult, I know how painful failure can feel, but it is so important that kids know the only way to learn, improve, and succeed is to be okay with failure and know how to get up and try again.
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