The Gift of Failure
By LCE Principal, Emily Blaney
On the evening of October 11, 2017, New York Times bestselling author Jessica Lahey presented to a packed La Cañada Elementary school library. The event was sponsored by the three elementary schools as part of our continuing education series for parents, and parents from LCE, PCR, PCY, and LCHS were in attendance.
Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, used current research and humorous anecdotes from her life as a parent and as a middle school teacher in her hour-long presentation. One of the anecdotes she shared went something like this: She struggled one morning when she noticed that her son had left his completed homework on the kitchen table. She had been working with him on taking personal responsibility and accepting consequences for his mistakes, and she was trying to teach him to use strategies like preparing his backpack the night before, as soon as he finished his homework. Looking at that completed homework was so frustrating for her, and knew she would look like a SuperMom if only she could deliver it to school and save him. In fact, she had to be at the school anyway for a meeting later that day. With much conviction (and support from her Facebook friends), in the end, the completed homework stayed on the kitchen table. Did her son have a natural consequence? Yes. He stayed in at recess to speak to his teacher and finish another copy of the work. But the best part is that her son came home and told his mom that his teacher had taught him a new organizational system - putting everything in his backpack the night before!
Ms. Lahey’s message to the audience was crystal clear: In order to prepare our kids for adulthood and help them build autonomy, we have to let them deal with some of life’s greatest challenges at school, in sports, in friendships, and at home. As a parent, it’s easy to intervene with the other adults in our children’s lives to “fix things”, but if we really wish for our kids to become competent adults, in the words of Ms. Lahey, “We parents are going to have to step back, leave those scary obstacles lying in the road, and allow our children to face them head-on. Given our support, love, and a lot of restraint, our kids can learn how to engineer their own solutions and pave their way toward success that is truly of their own making”(Lahey xxi).
As you are learning in this series of articles, La Cañada Unified has partnered with Stanford University’s Challenge Success Program, which provides strategies for healthy, engaged kids and stronger schools. LCUSD’s goal is to implement these strategies to help our students build the independence and resilience needed to become adults who are prepared for a world we can’t foresee. One idea that challenges success is nurturing a growth mindset. Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck has done extensive research on why people succeed and how to foster a growth mindset. Ms. Lahey highlighted the work of Dweck in her presentation by encouraging us to teach our children that talent and ability are not fixed traits, and that hard work, failure, and the ability to learn from failure can positively develop their abilities. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed outlines specific steps that parents can take to help their children succeed and prepare them for the future. One of the great parts of this book is that no matter how old your children are, it is never too late to start!
Flintridge Bookstore joined us for this presentation and sold copies of the book, and Ms. Lahey stayed afterward to sign books and answer questions. A copy of the book is also available in the parent sections of each of the elementary schools’ libraries. Parent and School Board member Brent Kuszyk attended the event and states, "I was so pleased to have the chance to hear nationally known author Jessica Lahey at LCE recently. Ms. Lahey's message coincides directly with our Challenge Success program as it relates to raising well-balanced children."
Do you want to instill a sense of responsibility and pride in your kids? Then I encourage you to read the book and follow Jessica Lahey on Social Media: @jesslahey
 Lahey, Jessica. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Harper, 2016.