Why I’m OK with my Kids Failing.

June 6, 2013

Why I'm OK with my girls failing their tap exam - building resilience and confidence in kids

My girls are about to do their first tap dancing exam. It’s a pretty big deal in this house at the moment, with lots of practicing and extra classes and excitement.

It’s also pretty hard. Both girls are still unsure about a few things that will be part of the exam and both are quite nervous about getting it right on the day.

Talking with another ‘dance Mum’ about how prepared they were and what we could do to help them it suddenly struck me – I am ok with them not doing well in their tap exams. In fact I am ok with them failing their tap exams.

It’s an idea that has been swirling around my head for a while. I’ve read blog posts and articles on the subject and yesterday I caught some of Radio National’s Life Matters show talking about resilience and persistence in children and it all fell into place.

Doing hard things and failing is ok, in fact it is important for our kids to experience these set backs.

It might seem like I am a mean parent, being ok with my kids failing at something that is important to them, but it all makes sense to me.

Yes, I want my girls to do well at their tap exam. It will be great if they do well and experience that thrill of working hard, doing something difficult and achieving their goals. That would be a fabulous, and they would learn so much.

They would not be doing their exam if their teacher and I didn’t think they had the ability and every chance to do well. We have supported them and encouraged them every step of the way and done everything we can to help them succeed.

We all want them to do well, but the hard truth of the matter is that there is a reasonable chance that something will go wrong, they will get upset and it may all come crashing down around them. I am not hoping for that to happen, but it is a possibility.

I could turn myself inside out trying to prepare them more, I could force them to practice more, drill them on each exercise or could cancel the exam all together. But I am not going to do any of those things. I will simply support them, encourage them and love them, because I am ok with them doing well, and I am ok with them failing.

Why I'm OK with my girls failing their tap exam - building resilience and confidence in kids

Their very first tap concert – they were ducks!

If the best happens and they do great, their teacher and I will be there, freezing to death in the foyer of the small country hall to hug them and celebrate with them and tell them how proud we are of all they have achieved.

If the worst happens and it all falls apart, their teacher and I will be there, freezing to death in the foyer of the small country hall to hug them and commiserate with them and tell them how proud we are of all they have achieved.

Because either way they have achieved something momentous. They have worked hard, they have been brave, they have done something scary and difficult.

The things they will learn if they fail are just as important as the things they will learn if they succeed.

If they fail, they will learn that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things don’t go right. They will learn that sometimes ‘life sucks’ and it hurts, but you can move past that. They will learn that even in the worst of times there are good things and to proud of what they have achieved despite the setbacks. They will learn that failing is not the end of the world and how to pick up the pieces and start again. They will learn to be resilient and persistent and confident and a million other things… they will learn they really can do anything, even if they fail at it.

These are important things to learn.

I want my kids to do well in everything they attempt to do, but realistically that just isn’t going to happen. So I want them to learn that they can fail, things can go wrong, they can mess up… and still be ok.

I’d prefer they learn that surrounded by love and support doing something that isn’t hugely important (I know right now they think tap exams are huge and important but in the scheme of things, they’re not) rather than learning that later, as an adult when it may well be something that has a little more lifelong significance than a level 1 tap exam.

What do you think? Are you ok with your kids failing at thing?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo @Countrylifeexperiment June 6, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I think it is so important that kids learn to deal with not always winning, or being the best etc. Throughout life, there are times when we don’t get what we want, and we just have to cope. It’s better to learn how to move on and keep going while you are young, than to be an adult who falls in a heap at the first failure or rejection that happens.

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Kellie June 6, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Absolutely. I heard Maggie Dent speak the other week and she uses the pass the parcel example, how it has changed in modern times. I agree with her, and you, that children need to learn disappointment – in games, the lesser important things, to prepare them for the big things – life!
Great post Kate!

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Amanda Kendle June 7, 2013 at 12:47 am

Totally agree with you Kate. Just recently one of our most elite private schools over here in Perth made a decision about letting students fail more often – interesting story – http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/17319358/students-to-learn-about-failure/

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katef June 7, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Oh I am pretty sure that is the school that was mentioned in the radio segment I heard… really interest stuff, thanks for the link

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Faigie June 7, 2013 at 3:18 am

Failing is sometimes more painful for the parents than the kids. I do think though that it is sad that something that they enjoy so much like tap dancing comes with a “test”. and if they do fail I hope it doesn’t kill their interest in it.

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katef June 7, 2013 at 4:08 pm

I should have said in the post – but both girls chose to do the exam, there is no pressure from me or their dance school to take part but they have done ballet exams and really gotten a lot out of the extra classes and doing something difficult so I was more than happy to support their choice.

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Jen June 7, 2013 at 10:57 am

I agree – also I think how we construe ‘success’ and ‘failure’ is very subjective. At my son’s school cross country I was standing with another mum from his class watching our boys race – she watched her son win and run up to her delighted with his result. About 5 minutes later, I had my son run up to me, second last but just as happy saying ‘Mum, I beat SOMEONE!’. Objectively perhaps his race was a ‘failure’ but on his own terms it was a huge success.

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katef June 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Oh that is so true!
We had a similar cross country experience… one of my girls came dead last at districts… 72nd! But came home glowing… “Mum I came last but I ran the whole way and I made it to districts too – that’s pretty good I reckon!”
So pleased our kids don’t see success as always winning or being the best.

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Alicia June 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I used to train in martial arts and helped teach the kids, judged their exams, etc. Kids did fail, all the time (grown ups, too). In fact, we started talking about how all the black belts we knew had failed or bombed or gotten “incomplete” on at least one test. But they became black belts because they came back and did it again until they got it right. Seeing someone else fail and come back to try again was a really important lesson for all the kids in the class, even if they were having a “good” test day themselves.

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Louise June 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm

It’s a complex topic and exams/grades are at the heart of our education system – but that’s what kids have to deal with – starting with an effort and mastery outlook rather than a success and achievement approach is really essential – and very tricky. Good luck!

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Marla K June 7, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I completely agree! I don’t think that kids can really learn anything unless they know about failure. I do have a question though… My 5 year old daughter has experienced her normal share of disappointment, but she is so sensitive that she completely crumbles so hard, that with certain things, she won’t even try if she thinks she will fail. This is very strange to me, because we certainly don’t strive for perfection over here.. I think maybe it’s a phase, but do you have any thoughts about this?

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kate June 7, 2013 at 2:26 pm

My kids are too young for that yet, it might break my heart to see them try something and work hard at it and then fail. It must be even harder with twins, what if one passes and the other fails?

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Nathalie Brown June 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I always tell my classes and own children mistakes are part of learning and if you tried then that’s perfectly good enough

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katef June 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Ah the kids and schools you work with are so lucky to have you.

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Jarrod Green June 8, 2013 at 1:29 am

Oh, man, this is good. I think you approach this issue exactly right—and your kids will hugely benefit from your love/support/acceptance/allowance. Parenting win.

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Kirsten June 8, 2013 at 7:01 am

Good post. I was a dismal failure at sport during school. Now looking back, I may not be good at that, but the things I was good at I worked hard and did well. Maybe the faliure motivated that. I tell my Hannah you’ll be good at some things and not others. That’s how we’re all made.

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Luana June 8, 2013 at 11:30 am

I totally agree with you, this topic has been in my mind even before I had my son. I used this theory to guide my own life and now to give my son an example of resilience and self-respect.
And I quote you: “The things they will learn if they fail are just as important as the things they will learn if they succeed”… “Things can go wrong; they can mess up and still be ok”.
There is always the option of trying again, and again, and again until we get the result that what we want. Life is in better balance when good and bad are scenarios we accept.

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Kirsten McCulloch June 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Great post Kate! I read something recently – I don’t remember where or who it was, but it was a guy crediting his parents with (at least part of) his success: they had a daily or weekly tradition at dinner where Dad would say “what did you fail at today?”, and they were expected to have something to report – cause if you’re not failing, your not learning.

I would love my kids to grow up with the idea that failing is great because it means you’re trying stuff and learning, not bad because you didn’t succeed at everything.

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Emma June 26, 2013 at 5:50 am

I am in total agreement with you! They will also benefit from seeing that you don’t mind if they fail.

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