Yes, you read that title correctly – middle school is the perfect time for your child to learn to fail. No, I’m not suggesting you set your child up for failure. Nor am I suggesting that anyone would want their child to fail. Rather, middle school is the perfect time to teach your child that everyone fails and that failure is okay.
It’s human nature to want to protect your child from any kind of hurt. However, if your child only experiences success, you are not doing him any favors. If your expectation is that your child will excel in every subject and activity, you are sending a message to your child that the end result is the only thing of value. In this sort of atmosphere it is likely that, by high school, your child will fear trying something new or making a mistake.
Middle school is a great time to consciously choose to help your child learn to appreciate the journey, not just the end. I speak from experience. I am a perfectionist by nature. I fully expected all of my children to be the same. I realized I might have a problem when my oldest son, then 4, pulled a book from our stack of library books and asked if we could read the “I’m Stupid” book. The title of the book was “Nobody’s Perfect.” Oops.
From that day on, I was hyper-conscious of not expecting greatness from my kids. I started trying new things and letting them see me fail again and again until I figured it out. (This was good for me too!) I let them watch me try to learn yoga from the nice lady on television. I tried to master bread baking. We laughed a lot. When the oldest boys hit middle school, I snapped. Relaxed, low-pressure mom disappeared. Suddenly, things felt so intense. I listened to my friends who had children in public and private schools. They were talking about colleges and test scores as our kids were entering sixth grade.
Rather than let the kids really learn, I hovered and jumped in to make sure each paper, test and project was perfect – in our homeschool!!!! I was miserable. The kids were REALLY miserable. I finally had a parent-teacher meeting with myself and decided that seventh and eighth grade were going to be different. I decided I would stop worrying about my tae kwon do loving son who was constantly getting kicked in the head and generally beat up by a tiny girl. He was having fun, why shouldn’t I? (He’s getting married to that girl this June, fyi.)
I made a few changes in how I did things and did a lot of sitting on my hands but it paid off in the long run. First, I signed the boys up for two online classes – science and writing. I chose science because I’m a terrible science teacher – ask our fire department. I chose writing because I accepted the fact that I will never be satisfied with their writing and that was unfair. I stayed out of the online classes and let the boys manage themselves. For other subjects, I stopped micromanaging projects and other assignments.
It was challenging and eye-opening. There were failures. There were tears. But, there was also joy and there was real learning going on. The boys learned that in failing they often learned more than if something had come easily. They learned to plan, anticipate and manage their own schedules much more effectively than if I had been more hands-on. By the time they reached high school, their educational foundation was strong. All three went to community college as juniors for dual enrollment. I fought every urge to interfere in those classes. They managed quite well on their own. They were also confident enough to pursue sports through our local high school – track, golf and tae kwon do. (My youngest is a freshman and will likely follow suit.)
Their early experiences with failing/flailing have helped them in college as well. They are comfortable asking questions and asking for help as soon as they need it. They have a “big picture” in mind so that every small setback does not shatter their world. By letting them “learn to fail” while they were young and safe at home with us, the boys have avoided many of the pitfalls of their friends who were protected until they left for college.
If any of this feels familiar to you, take a deep breath and step back. Think about things you can do differently. Remember, as a parent, your “big picture” is to raise healthy, well-adjusted, independent adults – adults who will take risks and try new things. Stepping back now gives you a much better chance at doing this. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to watch. I know. I’m here if you need a pep talk – just leave a comment!!