Helicopter Parents, Step Aside—Your Kid Could Use a 'Fail'
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Ms. Angelou’s words of inspiration are more than just chicken soup for the souls of all those who are feeling disappointed or rejected. Both scientific research and testimonials by psychologists suggest that, not only is it beneficial to encounter failure and learn how to overcome it, but the sooner, the better. (Helicopter parents, are you listening?) We know it’s tempting to coddle your little ones—no one wants to see their kid fail, or worse, the look of genuine devastation that crosses their faces when they do (and we don’t mean a “It’s time for bed” kind of expression).
There is increasing evidence to support what trainer, school counselor, teacher, youth worker and psychodrama psychotherapist Nick Luxmoore terms the “developmental necessity of failure.” According to Luxmoore, “[Kids’] experience of failure is made harder by the banal rhetoric of ‘positive thinking,’ seeping into schools and flooding into other areas of life, suggesting that anything is possible and that wanting something badly enough will make it happen.”
Not that we’re suggesting you model yourself after the parents in Roald Dahl novels. Rather, research by the American Psychological Association suggests that parents and teachers can help their kids succeed by changing the way in which learning material is presented to them. A group of schoolchildren ages 11 to 12 were given a difficult anagram problem beyond any of their educational levels. Afterwards, half of the students were told failure is a normal part of learning, and is to be expected. The other half received no such pep talk. Guess which group did better during subsequent problem-solving exercises?
“Believing that success reflects higher ability and failure shows lower competence is not only wrong, but...is detrimental to intellectual efficiency during challenging tasks,” explains study co-author Frederique Autin. “Fear of failing not only hampers performance, it can also lead students to avoid difficulty and therefore the opportunities to develop new skills." Ultimately, this research suggests kids fail less when they accept failure is a part of learning.
Therefore, it seems that (completely) shielding our kids from failure is actually doing them a disservice. "Sailing through life without ever being exposed to failure leaves a young person in a dangerous position when failure does eventually strike," explains Luxmoore. The earlier on in life they learn to cope with failure, the more resilient they’ll be to larger disappointments in the long term. (God forbid they get laid off or marry the wrong spouse some day down the road.) So, as much as we hate to see our precious babies fall flat on their rears now, remember that what doesn't kill them literally makes them (and their cognitive functions) stronger.
By Cordelia Tai
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