The unconditional love we have for our children, combined with the protective animalistic instinct that is housed deep within our DNA, compels us to shelter our children from the dangers of the world. However, we always need to keep our eyes on the end game: to create independent, young adults that can successfully navigate the dangers of tomorrow on their own.
In Jessica Lahey’s best selling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, she writes on this topic saying, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so, we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world” (Lahey).
We need to teach our fledglings to fly without us. Now, I am not suggesting that you push your cute, baby birds out of the nest before they are ready. Rather, I’d like us to work together to teach them the skills needed to take flight! Once they grow their flight feathers, we need to teach them to flap their wings, understand the wind, and instill the courage necessary to take the first leap out of the nest without us.
When children feel safe and supported, they have the courage needed to take the leaps in life. Ideally, they will soar and feel the wind through their wings, but sometimes they will fall to the ground. Falling is okay. Let your fledglings brush off their wings and climb to the top of the nest, then encourage them to leap again by asking, “What could we do differently next time?” We all make mistakes – but when we learn from those mistakes, they turn into lessons, and learning lessons is what school and life are all about.
What do standardized tests, reading scores, grades, and college admission decisions all have in common? This is not a riddle; all of them are used to compare our children’s successes against one another’s. Let’s resist society’s pressures that make us feel “judged by (our) children’s accomplishments rather than their happiness” (Lahey). With enough practice, every child can learn to ride a bike. Does it really matter if it takes him or her two weeks or two months? No – you are just going to remember the joy on your child’s face when he or she realizes you aren’t holding the seat anymore. “School is prime time for failure, even among kids who have sailed through school… The combined stressors of puberty, heightened academic expectations, and increased workload are a setup for failure. How parents, teachers, and students work together to overcome those inevitable failures predicts so much about how children will fare in high school, college, and beyond” (Lahey). Sure, we all want our children to be successful, but let’s refine our definition of success to include happiness, as well as character traits like determination, perseverance, and grit.
Charleston Collegiate School is a family school, a community that partners with parents to inspire students to become passionate, lifelong learners by empowering them with knowledge, creativity, curiosity, and confidence to mindfully embrace the opportunities of tomorrow. What does that mean? It means we all need to work together to cultivate these character traits in our children that will empower them to handle life’s challenges. As Jessica Lahey explains, “the ability to attend to a task and stick to long-term goals is the greatest predictor of success, greater than academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, test scores, and IQ.”
So, the next time our children forget their iPads, lose their homework, or ask for poster board the day before the science fair, let’s ask ourselves- “What is the end game?” and “How can we turn this mistake into a lesson?” Let’s work together to teach our fledglings to fly high!
Dan Miller LISW-CP, HS-BCP, CART
Dean of Middle & Upper School
Lahey, Jessica. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Harper. 2015.