Encourage the struggle

Wednesday, 11 Mar 2020

Each day we wake, blessed with a clean slate, ready to write the story of the day ahead. A blessing. An opportunity to stretch and grow. A chance to bless those around us. A chance to learn something new.

If we could ask ourselves, ‘What would we try if we knew we could not fail?’ it may help us to see some things that we could achieve if fear were not holding us back and stopping us from achieving all that we could. Maybe if we reworded the question and asked, ‘What would we try if we knew that we would fail again and again, but eventually succeed?’ Instead of thinking or believing that failure is no option, we could consider that success may not occur without experiencing failure as well.

No parent wants to see their child fail. Failing hurts. We want our children to succeed, but understandably as parents, we want to protect them from pain. A baby learns to walk and spends much time falling over and possibly hurting themselves as they grapple with this new skill that is walking. This is similar to the way of our children learning new skills in life, trying something new, failing along the way and learning from this experience.

The world often sees children as a reflection of their parents. The common belief is that if your child fails, it reflects poorly on the parent. By the same measure, when your child succeeds, it is an indication that the parent is doing something right. No one wants to be judged. Whatever the reason, it becomes second nature to protect our children from failure. But failure is part of growing. Even if you have the best of intentions, it is beneficial to let children fail.

Paul Tough, author of ‘How children succeed’ states, ‘It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact, we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from the dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we know – on some level, at least – that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.’

As parents, we can be tempted to slowly take over the responsibility of managing academics, athletics and relationships to prevent failure and pain. If we choose to see failure as an opportunity to learn and to empower our children, they may gain very positive skills to be used in life. Helping them to work through any disappointment and prepare them to maybe do better next time is beneficial as a parent. As C.S. Lewis stated, ‘Failures, repeated failures, are signposts on the road to achievement. One fails forward towards success.’

If our children are going to feel comfortable failing, they need to know that our relationship isn’t dependent on their success. A child’s healthy relationship with parents and teachers help provide the structure and communication necessary for a safe environment. It helps to provide a safe place where risk-taking is acceptable and even encouraged within certain boundaries. This is a space where we desire for students to be in the classroom and also in life in general, willing to see that often the best learning occurs at the moment in time where failure or struggle is experienced.

So what can we do to support our children to see failure or struggle as a learning experience:

  • Work towards a positive relationship with your child where open communication is encouraged, and failure is communicated as an opportunity to learn.
  • Provide appropriate accountability based on age, maturity and personality of your child.
  • Check in with your child to see how things are going. Don’t leave them to discover entirely on their own but be there when needed to coach and support them in their behaviour, gradually shifting the responsibility from you to the child.
  • Start small, one step at a time. Identify low-risk areas of opportunity for your child to begin to develop greater independence and learn from their decisions.

Ultimately, without a struggle, there can be limited progress. As you look for ways to encourage your child to struggle in some capacity in their learning and their life experiences, that you will be looking for ways where you can gradually empower them to learn from their life experiences.  In so doing, your child will be able to develop confidence and skills to become independent as learners and secure in life.

Tara Waller
Head of Primary Years