Your Kid is a Failure (and why thats a good thing): Two Important Reads for Parents

Your Kid is a Failure (and why thats a good thing): Two Important Reads for Parents

A Spiritual Journey to Ordinaryness

Today was my son's first day of third grade. Its a big year for his development. He's set to become more independent- doing more chores, paying attention to his own needs, being responsible for his commitments and plans. As a parent who is contantly self-evaluating my guidence, I'm hyper critical of my own helicopter-like moments. This is when I get in the way of both his successes and his failures. If he feels successful, I try not to dole out a bucket of praise. And when he fails, I try not to catch his tears.

He's got to learn to fail.

When I've set up my PinBox 3000 Art-Cade, you'd be surprised how many times I've heard kids try it for the first time, launch thier first marble, miss the flipper button, watch the ball drain out, and then say, "I'm terrible at this". All within the first 1.5 seconds.

My response is: "If you had said that when you were a baby, you'd still be crawling around.

Failure is essential to growth.

Here are two books that I'm recommending to all parents who want to raise independant kids and to toy designers who want to have a lens of empathy when guiding kids through differing levels of success and failure.

The Self-Esteem Trap by Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D, is the kind of book that could be the go-to parenting guide for this generation of parents. We GenXers should not blame ourselves for all the wondering and wandering about we did before we had kids. Some of us (white kids) were raised in environments of praise, so naturally praise our kids, and in doing that, we tend to go overboard, thereby inflicting an inflated ego on our kids where they feel they can do no wrong and are entitled to "anything they can dream". (And possibly at the expense of others) Well, NEWS FLASH- It Ain't Like That. The right amount of failure is needed to help kids understand....

  1. The world does not revolve around them
  2. They should get back up and show some grit
  3. They can figure out many of thier own problems
  4. Being Ordinary is OK

That last one hit me like a ton of bricks. Having been raised in the era of "if you can dream it..." we've forgotten as a culture that helping others, being a reliable friend, and showing kindness are admirable and worthy goals in of themselves. Giving your kids permission to fail, to be ordinary, to show kindness, to show emotion- these are key to developing independant humans, who will hopefully stop handing you thier garbage or thier dirty laundry, both literally and emotionally.

(I'm reminded of the amazing film Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about the life of Fred Rogers- a great puppet master and a true genius of emotional intelligence. Fred knew that kindness and love were more important than ability or charm.)

"Failures and mishaps teach us about ourselves and about our world-how others see us and what we can expect."

-from The Self-Esteem Trap

Designed for Success (and Failure)

Richard Dattner's adventure playground in Central Park NYC

The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids by Alexandra Lange employs each chapter to analyse elements of a designed-for-kids world. Chapter one is "Blocks"- going from unit blocks to Legos to cardboard boxes to Minecraft, Lange brings her analysis to what makes good design for developmental growth. Failure comes into focus here, just as much as success. The child's tactile engagement of the world via adult design influences the growth of children in ways that are hard to comprehend but through the eyes of a designer with a vision of human development. This book threads a historical dialogue that brings us to our present design tastes.

In the chapter titled "Playground", I was inpired to read about the movement for "Adventure Playgrounds" where kids can expirement with a variety of large-scale materials and real tools to build and design a world of thier own without protecting them from elements of bodily risk. Just as the abandoned lot used to serve as playground, we parents can learn to step away from the heap of kids and let failure, plus the notion of risk-taking play out to thier conclusions. If you give your kid a pile of cardboard, do you think you'd be able to not jump in and instruct them?

Its More than Just a Scratch

Not getting in the way of your childs failures doesn't mean that you shouldn't protect them from harm, of course not. But what both books, (as well as the Mr. Rogers film) seem to speak of is an empathetic view of failure that resonates with the growth of the child. This is in contrast to innoculating the child against the pains and groans of daily life.  

We have a lot to learn from this. Lets not be to hard on ourselves either.

Happy parenting!

Supportive Ways to Speak to your Child

"Tell me what is wrong."

"You can use a normal voice (instead of a sad one) so I can understand you better."

"Do you think you could try again, or do you need a break?"

"I think you are very close to solving this problem."

"It hurts to fall, but I think you'd rather try again than quit, right?"


The PinBox 3000 is an open-platform where kids can design their own rules.

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  • Ben t. Matchstick
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