Permission to Fail

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It was 8pm the night before a major project is due, and my child, “all of a sudden,” needed a trifold poster board. I derided about poor planning and how I couldn’t believe she had been so irresponsible. But then, there I was thirty minutes later making a late-night run to the store for a poster board. I had reinforced my daughter’s understanding that “If I just wait mom out, when the complaining is over, she will go get it done for me. She won’t let me fail.”

Failure is defined as “a lack of success.” Was this outcome a success or a failure?

As moms, we want nothing more than to protect our children from anything that may cause them physical or emotional discomfort. Still, mistakes are inevitable, and without them, our children will never learn how to dust themselves off and try again. There are countless examples when we, as parents, hand them solutions. In doing so, we may unwittingly perpetuate the notion that success is what we value most and that failure is unacceptable.

While our children look to us for approval, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give them is the permission to fail.

Letting our children experience failure is not easy and often goes against what many of us are hardwired to do—safeguard. I am not suggesting that we throw them out there to fend for themselves. But as parents, perhaps we can start to introduce our children to the lessons in failure?

We can strike a balance between being our children’s advocate and helping hand when they cannot do things for themselves, and being a crutch in certain moments where they are fully capable. We can teach them that it’s ok to fail in order to equip them to define success for themselves. In doing so, we can help them build their toolbox for resiliency.

How Did We Get Here?

We can all probably remember the big moments and milestones where we encouraged our kids to fail, like letting them stumble to take their first steps or letting go of the bicycle so they can soar on their own. However, the most ingrained lessons about failure probably start with little things. We have a plethora of opportunities to send a different message in everyday moments.

Where Can We Go From Here?

Try this: When you notice your child forgot their homework on the kitchen table, don’t jump in your car and rush it to them. Although there are times when that action is warranted, more times than not, the lesson will come from the consequences felt by making a mistake. If you’re lucky, it only takes one time before they start to check twice when packing up their materials for the next day.

Try this: When they are stuck on a math problem, ask them to show you how they think it should be done instead of immediately sharing the trick you learned in middle school. Rather than providing them with the solution and never really arriving at where their understanding breaks down, you encourage them to problem solve with support where it’s needed.

Try this: When they forget that they need a trifold poster board the night before that big project is due, encourage them to find a creative compromise using what’s already in the house instead of hopping in the car for a late-night store run.

Be aware; if your house is anything like mine, these approaches may be accompanied by tears and accusations that you never help them with anything!

Moms, we got this…

We have to be careful as parents to not only celebrate our children’s successes but also teach them the value of their struggles. That’s where the magic is happening.

I can’t go back to 8pm on that night before the last big project was due, but there will be another deadline, forgotten homework on the table, and challenging math problems.

When we allow our kids to fail, we give ourselves permission to let go.

When we permit them to face adversity and consequences, we will be right there with them to reflect on the experiences that they’ve fully owned.

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Originally from Maryland, Danielle and her family moved to Pensacola in 2017. She is married to Pel and has two children, Kayla (15) and Elan (11), as well as a bonus son, Paxton, and crazy fur babies. Having moved six times in 15 years for her husband’s medical training, she is happy to call Pensacola “home.” Danielle was an elementary/special education teacher for 10 years prior to moving Pensacola and is now the “Chaos Coordinator” for the Balfour family. She loves being a sports mom, and when she’s not cheering her kids on from the sidelines or driving them to their various sporting events, she is volunteering in their schools because she still needs her school fix.

1 COMMENT

  1. This is a great and timely topic! So glad you brought it up as reminder to us moms. I remember the day my daughter forgot her Chromebook which she needs for class. At the time she was in 4th or 5th grade. The teacher was calling me and texting me saying that my child could not do much in class that day. I stood firm and didn’t bring her computer to school. But guess what, she never forgot to bring her computer to class again! She had to learn that lesson and began to do her own checklist of supplies needed. I can think of other examples too – forgetting items for a practice, not studying for a test the next day and doing late-night cramming, and on and on. Failure teaches us to work harder, own our mistakes and accept responsibility. Thank you for this!

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