Letting Kids Fail

My daughter’s personality has her perfectly poised for a successful school career. She responds well to direction and thrives in an environment with rules. For the most part (two examples will be discussed in depth below), she is extraordinarily self-motivated in group and solo projects. I don’t help her with anything unless she asks; her projects for school and for scouting (which instills leadership by insisting all projects be girl-led) are truly her own.

We’re in the throes of the spring sports season. My daughter plays on an Under 10 softball team that travels twice a week for games. Let me explain: softball isn’t nearly as popular as it was when I was 10. Girls in our neck of the woods tend to gravitate toward soccer and lacrosse during the spring. We travel to play other girls in our county. It’s an educational league. We don’t go up and down the eastern seaboard playing in tournaments. In fact, our team hasn’t won a game yet. Our coach, who’s worked with all kinds of softball teams at all different levels, told us at the beginning of the season that his expectations for the team were all about learning the game, and not necessarily winning. Many of the girls have never played before. They lose every game, but each time they improve: They get more hits. They score a run or two. They steal bases. They get more base runners. They get more outs (instead of the mercy rule constantly kicking in). They know where they need to throw the ball. This is softball, so they learn all kinds of ridiculous cheers to support their teammates. Yes, it can be disheartening to never win. But they wouldn’t be able to learn the game otherwise.

When the team plays an away game, it’s a huge chunk of time out of our evening. I usually leave the house at 4:30 and don’t get home until 8:30. There’s not a lot of time to do much else after school except pack sandwiches for dinner and change into the uniform. My daughter doesn’t get a lot of homework that she isn’t able to finish in school, so the only thing that suffers is piano practice.

My children have lessons once a week and in theory are supposed to practice every day. Practice has been much more of an issue lately because it’s exam time. The teacher, who is kind and patient, gives a mock exam a month before the actual test, the week before. My daughter struggled to learn one of her selections for the exam, and then blew off practicing regularly over the last few weeks for one reason or another. (She always had time for TV, however!) At her last lesson, she was inconsolable because the teacher told her unless there was dramatic improvement, she’d fail. Then the teacher asked me if I wanted to cancel the exam, and I said no. I didn’t make matters any better by reminding my daughter this could have been avoided if she’d managed her time better and didn’t watch as much television. But she wasn’t going to learn anything unless she failed her exam. Even after the disastrous lesson, she still fought me about practicing. She took the exam yesterday morning and in all likelihood didn’t pass. But if I cancelled the exam, she would have learned that her behavior led to an avoidance of the consequences of her actions. She’s got to learn that her choices can have unpleasant results, and the only way to do that is to let her fail.

Letting Kids Fail

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