As you may remember from my summer emails, the faculty and staff read Jessica Lahey’s book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. I highly recommend it, as it offers incredible insights into simple steps we can take with our kids to develop resilience and intrinsic motivation. One parent has been reading along with us; she recently relayed to me a quick story about her daughter during the first week of middle school, which was directly influenced by The Gift of Failure.
During the first week of school, Mrs. Weinblatt, our Sixth Grade language arts teacher, assigned the class the following task: to choose a book for independent reading from the library at some point prior to Monday of the second week of school. This student mentioned it to her mother and promptly forgot about it.
On Monday morning, knowing her daughter had not picked out her book, this mother was about to remind her during the hustle and bustle of getting ready for school. In a moment of reflection on the teachings of Lahey’s book - which states that these are the small tasks children need to complete on their own, and suffer the relatively minor repercussions if they don’t - this mom, filled with some trepidation (and perhaps a smidge of parent-guilt) decided against the reminder.
The day went along and the mom didn’t hear anything from her daughter. In the car on the way home, there was no discussion about not having selected the book. It wasn’t until after dinner when the daughter offhandedly told her mom she had remembered to pick out that book just in time, relying on friends to remind her. Sensing an opportunity to gauge her daughter’s feelings around this near miss, the mother told her she had considered reminding her, but in the end decided against it. The daughter’s response:
“Good. I don’t want you to tell me about things like that. I want to do it on my own.”
As Lahey says in her book, “Unsolicited advice and direction, commonly known as “helping” from the parent’s perspective or “nagging” from the child’s, interferes with her sense of autonomy, conveys a lack of faith in her competence, and, because it’s irritating and upsetting to both of you, undermines your connection.”
Ultimately, says Lahey, less is more.
During this long weekend, I imagine you all will have ample opportunity to remind - and certainly some instances demand it. But maybe there are some moments when you don’t take advantage of that opportunity ...and instead, offer the gift of failure.