Create Learning Moments: Fail Early, Fail Fast

No one wants their child to fail.  Over protective parents, therefore, tend to heavily guide a child's results or "model" success. But a child can learn a lot when the work is their own, the consequences are minor, and you're there to pick up the pieces and encourage them to try again. 

Moments of failure produce resiliency. It is the tougher-than-nails ability to sort out the bad feelings and face the future with new-found energy and zeal. Better to learn how to do this in elementary school when the consequences are minimal, and before kids leave the nest and try to make their way on their own. The downside of not allowing kids these learning opportunities early is that fear of failure becomes their modus operandi, causing them to avoid risk at all costs and stifle their own creativity. Instead, young children should develop confidence in their ability to navigate their way to success and view any hiccups as "an opportunity to find new ways to reach the goal".

It seems counterintuitive to want your child to fail. Instead. you can welcome these "learning moments" and call them opportunities for growth instead.

What Makes a Great CEO?

A Wharton Business School survey of 20,000 executives* identified the following leadership qualities critical to success.  They are -- the ability to --
……..And to do them all at the same time! 

*From "Strategic Leadership: The Essential Skills", by Schoemaker/Krupp/Howland, published in Harvard Business Review, January 2013.

When do our children get a chance to learn this? Developing these skills is a process.  It takes time to develop these skills.  4th-8th graders have the capability to start.  But they won't learn them unless they are given the opportunity to try it for themselves. Adopting a "kid-driven" philosophy will give kids the space and time outside of school to develop these skills. Activities such as Odyssey of the Mind and scouting allows kids to explore these skills through interactions with others. Or let kids create their own structure as they devise activities which can lead to the same self-empowering results.

Often I hear parents say, "But if I want my child to get  into medical school, he/she could be exploring the sciences and build skills now. Maybe competing in the AMC Math Contest or Science Bowl is a better way to their spend time?  After all early expertise can be built upon in the future."

My response? If your child is really fascinated by genetics and wants to enter the Google Science Fair then go for it! But often gifted kids are excited by a variety of topics and pushing the development of expertise too early can cause burnout. In some fields, Malcolm Gladwell's concept of 10,000 hours ("Outliers: The Story of Success", 2008) does have merit -- there have certainly been cases where high school prodigies have become undisputed success cases. But unless the motivation to start the 10,000 hours is kid-driven, early narrowing of focus can easily backfire later.  True passion offers efficiencies that beat out forced (read: parental controlled) focus every time.

Consider a focus on activities that will develop communication, leadership, creativity and teamwork skills instead. Frank Bruni, author of "Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be" (2015), points out that many of the CEO's of top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 do not have Ivy League pedigrees. Perhaps their less conventional or less celebrated paths allowed them get to know themselves and others, giving them a stronger ability to "create" success -- something that top grades and 2400 SAT scores do not guarantee.



What is Kid-Driven Conversation?

When I started coaching Odyssey of the Mind nearly 10 years ago, I learned something valuable -- how to mentor kids without being prescriptive and robbing them of the opportunity to call an idea their own. It gave me a way to support my childrens' academic work.  I could help them make progress without giving them the answers and undermining their confidence in their ability to solve problems. 

I used what I learned to mentor kids in other activities as well.  Scouts, Science Bowl, History Day. Here are the basic rules to follow:

1. Parents/mentors should not directly contribute ideas. No outside assistance. No leading questions.

2. Ask questions that will inspire reflection. Provide observations (not opinions).

3. Encourage brainstorming. Encourage kids to listen to each others' ideas.

4. Provide information but let kids evaluate the information and make the final decisions. 

Initially, it was hard to be patient and let the kids work through the process. I had to bite my tongue to avoid saying "Here, it'll be faster -- I'll just do it for you." But in the end, kids took pride in the decisions they made (and learned from them as well).

Here are slides from a workshop for parents who want to learn how to incorporate "Kid-Driven Conversation" into their interactions with their own kids or kids they are mentoring.