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Failure: Path To Nowhere or Road To Success?

Posted May 10 2011 12:00am

It's a word that strikes fear into my heart. I've fought failure for as long as I can remember and for a long time considered it the fate waiting for me if I didn't push harder, faster, further toward a goal (any goal).

These days, I'm thinking of failure in different terms. More specifically, I'm thinking about how failure might help my kid succeed.

Radical concept, right? For me it is. I've spent 10 years buoying and buffering Javier (age 10, ADHD-inattentive type) so that success is imminent. As hard as he worked, I worked just as hard right beside him. Hours of homework, time in his classroom, supervised playdates ... his world was my world.

But not anymore.

As a parental unit, my husband and I decided it was time to let Javi fly on his own. We've decided to give him the independence to make his own choices and carve his path. He has no adult standing over him to ensure he finishes his homework and does so correctly, that he's following the school's rules, that he's being a considerate friend to his playmates.

But, mainly, our new hands-off approach is meant to give Javi the chance to fail. We want him to experience the natural consequences of his actions, to feel remorse and regret, and learn to self-correct his course.

So far the world hasn't ended.

Javi did receive his first C in Math, but it's a high C and his previous grade was a middling B, so that's not a steep decline. He's also struggling with a couple friendships. Most recently a kid who was Javi's "best friend" ratted him out for some less-than-classy bathroom behavior at school and dumped a glass of water on his head at a sleepover this weekend.

Previously, the C would keep me up at night (because what if Javi doesn't place in the AG track for middle school? what if he's bored? what if he slips through the cracks?) and the fallout with his friend would have me begging the other boy's mom for a sitdown (because what if Javi winds up without friends? what if he gets bullied? what if he starts hating himself or his school life?).

But I'm taking a more wait-and-see approach. Perhaps he doesn't belong on the AG track (and that's okay) and perhaps he'll be the kid who only has one or two friends (as long as they're good ones, that's okay, too).

What's more important than middle school academics and a social life is that my kid is (hopefully) learning that what he does matters.

What he does -- not what his mom and dad do.

Failure could be just what Javi needs to figure out how to be successful all by himself. (Here's to hoping!)

Do you let your child fail? How do you stand back and let natural consequences teach your child life's lessons?
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