Comments on: Why I want my kids to fail Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:58:53 +0000 hourly 1 By: Science-Based Parenting Post « Connect for Children Wed, 06 Jul 2011 20:52:17 +0000 [...] recently commented on a post from Science-Based Parenting on allowing our kids to “Fail,” in order to build resiliency and, believe it or not, [...]

By: SkeptVet Wed, 06 Jul 2011 19:00:42 +0000 I suspect you’re right. Differences in emphasis can masquerade as substantive differences, especially in a text-on;y medium. Thanks for the article!

By: Heidi Emberling Wed, 06 Jul 2011 18:32:04 +0000 Thanks for this reminder to focus on effort, rather than end product for our children. As the mom of a special needs kid, I’ve struggled with my expectations of what my son may and may not achieve in life. At birth, we imagine the world for our children. We may even envision them fulfilling the dreams we never pursued, accepting the challenges we never could, or taking the risks we avoided. We’re so caught up in the promise of our perfect child, we may miss the fabulous everyday wonder of the baby or toddler right in front of us.

In the early years, we may worry about them missing the opportunity to achieve greatness in a particular activity, signing them up for Suzuki violin lessons or baby gymnastics classes. Never mind that they prefer the garbage man to the symphony. Never mind that the Gymboree parachute makes them scream and they can’t yet tap their rhythm sticks on the beat.

Every year is a new struggle with my son. Forget becoming President; will he ever be able to manage a transition without a battle? Forget Ambassador to Russia; will he be able to put two words together before age three, like his neurotypical peers? Forget traveling the world with a backpack and a Eurail Pass; will he be able to survive a week at sleepaway camp?

My expectations for my son have evolved over the years, and they are still high, but my life improved dramatically when I released him from fulfilling my version of success, and began accepting him for the amazing, challenging, frustrating, funny, bright kid he was born to be.

Heidi Emberling, MA

By: slagell Wed, 06 Jul 2011 17:30:30 +0000 I’m not sure that there is anything contradictory in what you and I are saying, besides my obviously hyperbolic article title. I think I largely agree with your comment.

By: SkeptVet Wed, 06 Jul 2011 17:16:32 +0000 I love this blog, and I recommend it regularly, so I’ll apologize in advance for a comment which emphasizes a point of disagreement when I generally fail to comment positively on the majority of the content. :-)

While I agree that the mania over encouraging self-esteem, and blaming the lack of it for any perceived problem in children’s behavior or academic performance, is mostly based on myth, I have to say I am also a bit skeptical of what might be called the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” backlash idea.

We all construct narratives to make our life histories seem coherent and in some sense logically directed to the point at which we are now. Part of this includes seeing meaning and purpose in bad experiences. For theists, this can take the form of saying bad things were “meant” to happen and ultimately led to a greater good. However, I think non-theists make similar narrative adjustments to the past, including seeing “failures” and somehow having strengthened our character. Given that there is strong evidence for an overwhelmingly genetic basis to temperment (~70% heritability on various standardized assessment instruments), I am skeptical that our character is or even can be meaningfully altered by such experiences.

Perhaps surviving failure builds resiliency to some extent, or perhaps people who are naturally resilient interpret their failures in this positive way. I know people who are clearly not very resilient who interpret their failures as the reason for all their subsequent problems. Perhaps this is just a different way of interpreting the same event to fit a different narrative, which is dictated more by temperment than experiences?

As a parent, of course I agonize over how to shape the optimal growth experiences for my child. But I also have deep doubts that as parents we have anything like the power over our children’s ultimate experience of life that we think we do. Beyond providing a sufficient physical, emotional, and social environment that doesn’t impede their development and provides opportunities for them to engage their innate traits, I think we have less influence than we believe.

I was part of a generation fo “latch-key” kids who were supposed to be emotionally and socially ruined by too little nurturing and supervision, single working parents, “broken” homes and all that. And we seem to have turned out not much better or worse than any previous generation. Every generation frets about contemporary rearing practices and you can always find predictions of terrible outcomes. And every generation, on the whole, turns out about as functional, or dysfunctional, as those before it. So while the extremes of cosseting one’s children to the point of utter helplessness and “tiger parenting” to the point of sucking all the joy out of childhood are clearly both inappropriate, I think the acceptable middle ground is enormous.

It is easy to exaggerate and judge the parenting practices of other parents or the perceived zeitgeist of parenting theory, but I suspect strong statements about the risks or benefits of particular approaches for all, or even most children, are rarely justified. I have a hard time believing the obsession with self-esteem and protecting children, which seems to be largely a function of the of affluent, middle-aged parents becoming more common, is likley to create a generation much better or worse off than those before it.

By: Julia Wed, 06 Jul 2011 15:24:50 +0000 This reminds me of an article I read recently that had been linked to from another blog I read:

When we lived in the city my daughter was in the gradeschool gifted program and I saw a slight variation on this theme from parents in that program. The “You are a genius and failure is not an option – geniuses never fail”. I’m lucky that I had what my parents used to tell me to fall back on (because both my brother and I are technically “geniuses” I guess) – “You were born with a brain that makes some subjects easier and that is a gift that you had nothing to do with receiving. But you still need to put effort into your studies and not just do the easy ones, otherwise you will miss out on other wonderful things to learn. What is really important is that you try – not that you always succeed.”

My husbands parents were the opposite and did the “you are a genius and can never fail” so I think it helps him too to get to change the pattern and raise our daughter to value effort and good intentions above results.

Oh – and I’m actually quite relieved to live in our new rural area where there is no gifted program at our neighborhood school. We decided that our daughter can be challenged at home if need be and we can talk to her teachers if she gets too bored. But the social aspect of being in a more laid back elementary environment seems to have outweighed any possible boredom. She’ll have plenty of opportunities for AP classes in junior high.