This week we are discussing Chapter 20: Failure Is An Option and Chapter 26: No More Good Job. Kelly Pfeiffer will provide insight and lead our discussion this week. Just joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.
Failure Is an Option – Chapter 20
When I was invited to be a part of the blog about What If…? I specifically asked if I could write about Chapter 20, Failure Is an Option. I have strong connections to this idea personally and professionally. In this chapter, Rae Pica asks, “Where do children of such a tender age learn that failing to come in first is failing, and that making a mistake is the worst thing they can do?”
An individual’s belief about his or her own personal capability begins its formation early in life.
Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn
As a Positive Discipline Trainer for parents and parent educators, I’ve been teaching a concept called, “Mistakes arewonderful opportunities to learn” for the past fourteen years. “Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn” is one of the Positive Discipline Guidelines. It’s a key philosophical component in Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline books and is integrated into many of the Positive Discipline parenting tools.
The idea that there is anything “wonderful” about mistakes can be quite a hard sell to parents in Positive Discipline classes. As Rae Pica writes in “What If . . . ?” many parents hold the “belief that perfection is the only route to a successful future.” Parents are afraid of the unfamiliar and uncomfortable idea that “failure is an option.”
I think parents are afraid because of negative experiences they remember about failures from childhood. If those parents were blamed and shamed as children when they made mistakes, then I understand the need to shield children from the painful experience of feeling blame and shame. So in an effort to do things better for their children, some parents decided to rescue kids from failure.
What if parents taught kids that failure is part of the process in climbing the ladder of success? What if parents encouraged children to expect setbacks, to persevere and to redefine what it means to feel capable?
Helping Parents Understand the Benefits of Failure and Mistakes
In Positive Discipline parenting classes, I ask parents to . . .
“ . . . think of an accomplishment that you feel especially proud about.”
Next I instruct them to . .
“. . . think about the mistakes and struggles you encountered in working towards that accomplishment.”
Lastly I ask them,
“What skills and beliefs did you gain from working through those mistakes and struggles?”
I write those skills and beliefs on a flip chart so the whole class can see those words such as
- problem solving
Those skills and beliefs always line up with what parents really want to foster in their children.
Important Discussions about Mistakes and Imperfections
When telling stories at bedtime, parents might consider tales of real life struggles such as Colin Powell was once a C-minus student and Dr. Suess’s first book was rejected by 27 book publishers. Those and other uphill struggles are included in Grit to Great [Crown Business; First Edition, 2015] by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. Even more powerful, parents can share age appropriate stories of their own struggles in life with their children.
Another tip I offer to parents is to talk about mistakes often with kids and discuss mistakes as a regular part of conversation. Some families already have a sharing time during dinner – a time when each member shares about a positive moment from the day. What if some nights could be for each member to share a mistake they made that week and what they learned from it or how they recovered from it?
There are many ways to let children know that no one expects them to be perfect. Sometimes after my own child made a mistake and I knew that she was embarrassed about it, I would say to her, “If they lined up all of the 13 year olds in the whole world and asked which one I want, I would say, ‘That one right there with the blond hair and the green eyes like mine!’”
No More “Good Job!” – Chapter 26
“Sure, hearing ‘good job’ the first few times – or receiving a sticker or a gold star – may make a child feel good. But the feeling is temporary,” offers Rae Pica in What If . . . ? I agree with Pica that children will not gain self-esteem based on what others think – because that’s called “other-esteem.”
Good Job is Not What Children Want or Need
Of course we all enjoy the admiration of others, but as most of us have come to know, it’s what we think of ourselves that matters the most. If we want to raise children who are capable and who feel capable, we must encourage them to reflect on their own attempts, mistakes, risks and accomplishments.
One might make the point that children are begging for our approval. Every day little voices literally call to adults to, “Come look!” or “Hey, see what I did!” I will counterpoint that it is not our approval that children seek. They seek our emotional attunement. They want us to get excited with them, to share in their joy, not to pass judgement on the accomplishment.
Rewards Promote Co-Dependency
“But the child who has come to expect extrinsic rewards – who has become convinced that everything she does is worthy of praises or prizes – will be the adolescent or adult who can’t handle life’s realities.” If you are a child who is always looking to others for approval, then you become dependent on the judgment of others. You’re an approval junkie. Your self-esteem doesn’t exist if there is no one there to clap for you.
Give Encouragement, Not Praise
Another big component of the Positive Discipline philosophy is an idea taught by Rudolph Dreikurs, who taught that, “Children need encouragement like a plant needs water. In Positive Discipline [Ballantine Books, 2006], Jane Nelsen writes plenty about the concept of encouragement and how it is different from praise. Jane explains that praise is similar to sweets in a healthy diet. A little praise included with a healthy, consistent dose of encouragement is fine. But a sweets only diet would be harmful.
So when my son graduates from college this December, I will most definitely say, “I’m very proud of you” but I will also say, “That took tons of hard work and dedication” and I will ask him, “How does it feel now for you to be at this point?”
In her web article about praise versus encouragement, Nelsen wrote, “Encouragement is helping your children develop courage – courage to grow and develop into the people they want to be, to feel capable, to be resilient, to enjoy life, to be happy, contributing member of society”, and, as Dreikurs said, “To have the courage to be imperfect;” to feel free to make mistakes and to learn from them.
Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapters 20 and 26 and about the commentary Kelly has provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that – Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor
What to read next: Chapter 21: Should We Teach Handwriting in the Digital Age?, Chapter 22: Just Say No to Keyboarding in Kindergarten, and 23: iPads or Playdoh (11/16/15).
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