by Superintendent Luke Francois

Let Your Kids Fail

What?  The Superintendent is suggesting parents let kids fail?  That’s right. I am.  

A recent video on Twitter inspired me to write about letting kids fail.  As a wrestler in high school and college, I won many more matches than I lost.  Memorable matches I lost to area opponents in high school included Eric Reukauf of Dodgeville and in college, Phil Wolff of Lancaster and Corey McCauley of Richland Center.  I wouldn’t take back any of the losses if I could.  Why not?  Because each match taught me something about myself.  I learned from my failures and so it should also be for our kids today.  

Recently I saw a parent running to the sidelines during a soccer game at half-time.  She broke into the coach’s huddle while he was talking and handed her kid a water bottle!  Now I am all for keeping kids hydrated but how many times does a kid need to fail to bring his water bottle to the sideline before he learns that if he wants water he has to remember to bring it himself?  Well, if a mom is always bringing his water bottle for the boy, the answer is the boy never learns.  In this real life scenario lies a lesson.

Parents, let your kids fail.  It’s okay for kids to work through adversity and set-backs.  Kids are resilient and eager to learn.  Trial and error is healthy for problem solving and critical thinking, which are lacking skills.  When you let kids own their mistakes they often reach new heights.  I recall recently getting totally fed up with my child and saying something like, “If you fail to figure out how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich then you will have to skip lunch.”  By golly, the boy figured it out and I praised him for his efforts.  

There is a second lesson:  Praise kids for working hard rather than being smart.  Doing so pushes kids into what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset, or where kids avoid challenges. Consider this study, which Dweck did variations on for years:

“Researchers give two groups of fifth graders easy tests. Group one is told they got the questions right because they are smart. Group two is told they got the questions right because they tried hard. Then they give the kids a harder test, one designed to be far above their ability. Turns out the ‘smart’ kids don’t like the test and don’t want to do more. The ‘effort’ kids think they need to try harder and welcome the chance to try again. The researchers give them a third test, another easy one. The ‘smart’ kids struggle and perform worse than they did on the first test (which was equally easy). The ‘effort’ kids outperform their first test, and outperform their ‘smart’ peers.

And here’s the really scary part: the researchers then tell the kids they’re going to give the same test at another school, and ask them to send a note over with their own scores. Forty percent of the ‘smart’ kids lie about their results, compared with around 10% of the ‘effort’ kids.”

So tell kids it is okay to fail, teach them to problem solve on their own, and praise them for their efforts. Both parents and kids can learn a lot by doing so.