Numerous times we have watched our kids avoid situations or challenges because they thought they would not do well. One of my daughters did two days of basketball tryouts only to skip the final mandatory day where they were announcing the team. I had watched the practices and she played better than the majority of the girls. It looked clear she would make the team. I was so confused. After a lot of discussion I realized she skipped it because the chance of being told her best was not good enough would hurt more then just skipping the team all together. This made me so sad. It also made me think about the times in my life where I have done the exact same thing.
Last Monday night we called our family together and said we needed to have a family discussion. One of my kids said “Ya, ya, ya… we know, the house is a mess and we need to work as a team to keep it cleaner.” I thanked her for her awareness and suggestion but explained that was not what we wanted to discuss tonight. I said “Dad and I want to discuss how we want you kids to fail.” They started laughing and were like “That’s funny.” I assured them we were serious and we not only want them to fail we want them to fail often. At this point they were all quiet and looking at me like I had lost it. The rest of the discussion went something like this…
If you are not failing you are not pushing yourself to do hard things and improving. We want you to try the things that push you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes this will pay off and bring you happiness and sometimes your best will not be good enough. We still love you. We will always love you. Our love is not contingent on your success. We want you to try your best and never give up because of the fear of failing. We love you even when you fail.
One of my friends was telling me how her son is a really good soccer player but has been on horrible teams. For two years in a row they lost every single game. Although as a parent she wanted to help him and get him on a different team, she decided against it. She explained in detail how he learned and grew more in those two years of losing then he would have ever learned from wining. When his team finally won a game the victory was sweet, but he also felt compassion for the team that lost. Even when your best is not good enough, you will always learn and grow from your losses.
Some of my best wake up calls came from papers that came back covered in red ink. I had a roommate in college whose mom was still correcting her papers and even writing some of her reports. That mother had robbed her daughter of self confidence. She couldn’t do anything without her mom’s help or approval. We have total confidence in each of you. We will not do things you can do for yourself, even if you think we can do it better.
We discussed THIS article I had read about a researcher from Stanford named Carol Dweck that has been studying what motivates kids to keep trying and not give up. We all found it facinating.
We learn more by getting questions wrong, loosing soccer games, not making the basketball team and not getting a perfect score on a paper. So if you are afraid of failing, then you are afraid of learning.
Salmon Kahn (the developer of Kahn Academy) explains it perfectly “The brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right.”