Why our kids can’t fail

Miss Fliss’ blue eyes filled with tears as she venomously spit out –

why can't our kids fail?

Why can't our kids fail?

“Why are you always criticising me?”

“But I haven’t. I’ve just told you that you’ve spelt God wrong – it should have a big ‘G’ – and that there should be more explanation of the Christian faith in your project.”

“You’re so unfair. You always pick at me.”

As she stomped off to poke pins into the voodoo doll of her mother that she keeps under her bed, I wondered – why can’t our kids fail?

What is it that makes our kids dissolve at the slightest criticism? Is it just our kids, or do other parents report the same thing? These days it seems I can’t even correct a spelling mistake without permanently damaging my kid’s self-esteem.

What happened to resilience?

I know it’s trendy to blame the schools for everything the in-training generation does wrong, but I do wonder whether they have a part to play in raising a generation that can’t be wrong.  Of course this is not news, schools have merely moved on to a logical conclusion, from where they started way back in junior school banning competitions and winners. No one comes first in class any longer, and the first place winners on the sports field get the same medals as everyone else who participated. Disappointment and criticism – constructive or otherwise – must be avoided at all costs.

In senior school, students sitting exams still pass if their mark is a D, and if they didn’t do well enough in their exam they can always try again and resit them.  Whilst that’s brilliant for students who don’t cope with exam conditions, I do wonder what it is teaching kids about the real world.

Regrettably, perhaps, it is a universal truth that there are winners and losers in the real world. Some people win the job, others do not. Some people win the competition based on skill and others fail. Life is constantly disappointing. Just ask the 40-something year old sitting next to you, about their dreams and hopes for their life and career, they’ll tell you all about heartbreak and disappointment. Hopefully, they’ll also tell you that there was nothing for it, but to keep going.

Somehow we need to teach our kids this resilience, so that they won’t crumble at the first sign of trouble or the first failure. We need to show them – yes, show them – from our own example, that failure isn’t the end of the story. We can pick ourselves up and learn from the failure, or loss. How else are we supposed to learn?

Things are not supposed to be perpetually easy. Life is not a McDonalds’ type existence, handing out burgers and mcnuggets and freely asking ‘do you want fries with that?’ Life is more likely to say ‘Stand up on your own two feet and work for it. Ask for it, and if you fail, pick yourself up and try again.’ Because if you don’t, no one else is going to be bothered to do it for you!

It’s never too late to try again, change direction, or re-evaluate your priorities.

I should know! I had a major disappointment over night, something I thought might just happen for me in the blogging world, didn’t happen. I just wasn’t good enough for the competition and I am seriously disappointed. This morning I sat in my pool of soggy self-pity and felt like tossing it away. All of it. I lamented the hours I put into it and the meagre results (financially) in return for the time investment, and I felt very close to saying ‘enough’.

And then I remembered my daughter’s protestations at our corrections this morning, and felt embarrassed. What kind of a role model am I, if I can’t brook my disappointment and try again? It seems I am merely enacting the maxim – ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.

In the end Sir Winston Churchill said it best – Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Why aren’t we – the schools, the parents, our society – teaching that Blitz spirit of resilience to our kids?


Image: Flickr CC



'Why our kids can’t fail' has 10 comments

  1. April 24, 2012 @ 1:04 pm Steve

    The hardest lesson we all must learn is that we are not automatically perfect or skilled at something. The second is that we must learn to recognize and value constructive criticism as being more valuable than unthinking, easy praise.


    • April 24, 2012 @ 1:16 pm vegemitevix

      So very true Steve. Shame I have to keep revisiting this lesson. Do I set the goals too high?


  2. April 24, 2012 @ 1:08 pm Katriina

    So true. I wonder sometimes if my kids see me as resilient, or as a wimp who gets despondent over the slightest failure/disappointment. On the one hand, here I am, living in a foreign country, doing my best to speak Finnish and learn a new city and make new friends. On the other hand, just this morning, when we were running late (and my inability to round up the troops made me wonder whether perhaps I had become both invisible and mute), I was practically in tears and had lost all vestiges of resilience and control.

    Definitely some mixed signals being transmitted to my kids.


    • April 24, 2012 @ 1:17 pm vegemitevix

      Hugs! I know exactly how that feels, and in fact is exactly what I’m talking about. Just the other day my Englishman was saying to the kids ‘look what Mum’s achieved even though she’s spent years trying’ and then here I am today sniffing back tears at the latest setback. Hard, isn’t it!


  3. April 24, 2012 @ 7:08 pm MidlifeSinglemum

    Good points, I agree.


    • April 25, 2012 @ 12:19 pm vegemitevix

       Thank you. I know we don’t want our kids to fail, but really in the end isn’t the best lesson we can teach, how to get up again after they fail?


  4. April 24, 2012 @ 7:42 pm The Foreigner

    Really insightful and honest post.  I, too, constantly  have to revisit these lessons.  Before The Duchess even arrived I often thought about how I wanted to teach her that failing is okay because if you can’t fail I’m not sure you can fully appreciate the pleasure of what it is to succeed – to REALLY succeed.  It’s a lesson I’m not even sure if I’ve learnt at times.  I mean, I forbade The Native to tell anyone that I took my British practical driving test twice because I completely flopped the first time after having my American license for 12 years.  Think it’s a lesson I’m going to have to keep learning.  


    • April 25, 2012 @ 12:21 pm vegemitevix

      LOL! Oh no don’t mention the driver’s license. Is this a good time to mention that I failed my driver’s license in the middle of the main street, rather spectacularly. I drove into a parked truck, with the driving examiner sitting in the passenger seat. I got knocked down, but I got up again – got my license for real the following week. 🙂


  5. April 24, 2012 @ 11:41 pm NikkiiH

    I think the English (with a big E) education system has a lot to answer for. Every year I am in awe at the A level “pass” figures – surely they must be about 103% by now? Every year they creep closed to all encompassing. Bollocks. At least up here it is still possible to fail an exam – indeed many pupils fail Highers every year – the national pass marks are realistic – its real life. And there are consequences and backup plans and revisions and new directions all.the.time. How can a system where everyone passes work?


    • April 25, 2012 @ 12:22 pm vegemitevix

      And yet they’re now saying there needs to be a review of the A level exams because there’s a humungous jump between A levels and University. 


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