Growth does not take place in a vacuum. One of the worst things we can do to our kids is place them in an environment where they are continuously guaranteed success.
Babies Must Fall Before They Can Walk
Can you imagine if we never let our babies stand up? I mean, they are so unsteady on their feet and they could fall over. So instead of letting them toddle around and fall constantly. We just grab them every time they stand up and put them back down on their bellies. Or maybe, we know they need to learn to stand before they can walk. And of course, walking is an important life skill. So we just put rails up all over the place. Every 12 feet there is a low bar the infant can grab ahold of so that they never tumble over. Then one day, we let them out of their specially designed shelter and we are shocked to find they fall over. We taught them better than that! What is wrong with them?
That may seem like a ridiculous anology no is that crazy with how they raise their kids. But we do this exact same things with our kids frequently. It is done in more subtle, less visible ways. But we often hide their failures from them, set up an envoirnment where they cannot fail, and discourage them from doing things that we know are too hard for them. We hold them down so they don’t fall. We surround them with so much support that we smother them out.
Failure is Intrinsic to the Growth Process
But what kids really need is wide open spaces. They need room to fail. Room for failure is synonymous with room for growth. Did the infant surrounded with safety bars have room to grow? Did they have the space needed to learn how to run? Can they learn how to run without falling hundreds of times first? No. They cannot.
This is simply part of how human nature works.
“Specific motor problems are in many cases called to the infant’s attention or even thrust upon the infant by on or more caretakers in what we call a field of promoted action.Philosopher of Science Edward S. Reed & Blandine Bril, The Genius in All of Us, pg. 142
It turns out, kids grow because adults present them with challenges. Usually challenges that the child is not yet capable of solving.
This is one of the big discoveries of science that has not been popularized. Developmental biologists have found all human development is actually an innate response to problems and failures. Without problems and failures, development is stunted.
Failure is Hard
I guess the idea that one of the biggest secrets to success is constant failure is just not that popular. I mean, it doesn’t sound glorious or easy, does it?
It is uncomfortable. It is inconvenient. It is painful, sometimes physically, other times emotionally. And it can even be dangerous. Failure is not always a safe option. But without failure we stop growing.
In fact, failure is so difficult that our kids needs us to cheer them on whenever they meet with it. When they fail they were attempting to do something bigger. They were stretching and growing. So first, they need to be congratulated. You fell and scraped your knee? What a big kid owie! Good job. Then you wipe away the tears, clean their owie, and bandage it up. This is an example for young children who have been physically hurt while testing out their strength, balance, and place in their world.
But the principle does not change as they grow older. We encourage them to do things they are not comfortable with. If failure is not a possibility than they are operating far below their capabilities. And when failure hits teens, we still need to say congratulations.
You tried to do something harder than all the other kids just sitting on their bum playing video games. And you failed. Why do you think you failed? (They can usually tell you, they don’t need you to tell them.) What can you do differently next time to succeed? (They can also tell you this, they don’t need a lecture.) Great, it sounds like you understand why you failed and you are ready to succeed next time. Go try again.
In other words, parents are not supposed to make things easier for kids. Instead, they are supposed to present, monitor, and modulate challenges.David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us, pg. 142
So yes, I love it when my kids fail. Because it means I am doing my job right. It means they are pushing themselves. It means that they are finding out more about the world around them. It means they engaging with the process of self-discovery. It means they are growing.