“Failure” is a major buzzword in parenting today: In order to raise successful, resilient kids, we need to let them fail. If your kid forgets his homework or his sports uniform at home, don’t bring it to him. If she’s struggling with building a block tower or, later on, an essay, or even later on (heaven forbid), getting to her first job on time, don’t step in. Only by struggling, and sometimes failing, do kids learn exactly what they must do to succeed.
But what about us, the parents? Much of parenting culture is also focused on getting things right the first time — on enrolling kids in the right school; on cooking nutritious, labour-intensive meals; on controlling our tempers 100 per cent of the time. We parents don’t allow ourselves much room for failure, either.
Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist and contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times, asks what would happen if we acknowledged our own struggles, not only to ourselves, but to our kids.
Grant argues that by being open about our setbacks and our failures, we “normalise struggle”, and that normalising struggle helps kids not fall to pieces when faced with a setback.
He offers an example from his family life: When he was nervous about delivering a big speech, his daughter gave him some good (really, good! I’m going to remember her advice the next time I have to speak in public) advice on seeking out the friendliest member of the audience and speaking directly to that person. A few weeks later, when she was nervous about a school performance, he reminded her of her previous wise counsel.
Grant acknowledges that all children have troubles, ranging from the serious to the relatively minor, such as failing a test or enduring a social rejection. By letting them in on our struggles, we give them the tools to endure adversity and analyse how to avoid them in the future. First up in my family: How mum fails to control her temper 100 per cent of the time.