To Let Kids Fail Or Not To Fail…

“Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail,” is the title of an Atlantic article getting lots of attention this week.

The piece, written by Jessica Lahey, who writes about education and parenting, cites a new study looking at the ramifications of students not being allowed to fail.

This from Lahey’s piece:

“The stories teachers exchange these days reveal a whole new level of overprotectiveness: parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness, children destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure.

I believed my accumulated compendium of teacher war stories were pretty good — until I read a study out of Queensland University of Technology, by Judith Locke, et. al., a self-described “examination by parenting professionals of the concept of overparenting.”

Overparenting is characterized in the study as parents’ “misguided attempt to improve their child’s current and future personal and academic success.”

Not surprisingly, the article has got tons of people pretty vocal for one side or the other.

When I tweeted a link to the article, I got two opinions on the debate:

@ASQHealthcare wrote:

So agree about this. Kids need to fail sometimes to learn problem-solving skills.

And @EdNavigation wrote:

Without “overparenting,” the #child‘s “failures” may have catastrophic results. Just ask #parents of those with #autism, etc.

It’s hard to prescribe one approach because every kid and parent is so different. That means, parents and educators have to decide on what works best for their situations.

But what if allowing children to suffer setbacks they are able to flourish?

“I like the notion of failing to succeed,” says Ellen Galinsky, author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Skills Every Child Needs.”

In Chapter 7 of her book “Skill Seven: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning” she points out that “all children have weaknesses,” but “how do we deal with those? I think it’s important for children to know that making mistakes is an essential part of learning.”

She uses the example of the grading scale at the Harlem Children’s Zone, (HCZ) an educational nonprofit focused on helping low-income children and their families. HCZ does not use A, B, C, D and F ratings, but utilizes a rating of 1 through 4. 1 is considered an “oops.”

Galinsky quotes the former HCZ superintendent Daryl Rock, saying:

We give [children] the freedom to make mistakes. WE teach our kids that failure is not a  way of labeling who you are – it’s just a way of identifying what you don’t know and what you need to put more effort into. When kids understand that, they’re not hesitant about trying something, because if they fail, its not a reflection on them. That just tells them: “This is an area we need to work on.”

Indeed, Galinsky maintains: “We can’t learn without making mistakes.”

What’s your take? Should we allow kids to fail? Share your examples that worked, or didn’t work. (You can join us on if you want to weigh in with other educators and parents.)