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Do Children Learn More When They’re Not Afraid to Fail?

I’m no Tiger Mom.  I don’t browbeat our daughter to practice her violin for several hours each day nor do I threaten to make her stand out in the cold until her music lesson is perfect.  I don’t berate her for any grade less than an “A” or call her worthless or disgusting.  For me, the definition of our sixth-grader’s school “success” is about learning how to think her way through a problem rather than aiming for the perfect grade.

But we live in a society of teaching to the test to boost performance, saving our praise for the highest achieving students and where kids learn young that they are valued more if they grades are always good, never giving them a chance to fail or struggle at the exact time in their lives they need to be learning that lesson.

We encourage our daughter to take risks and think big.  Why not try the “extra” math homework and see how it goes?  The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t understand it and you learn it the next day at school; the best thing that could happen is you get it right and become more confident in yourself as a learner and problem solver.  But it isn’t always easy.

I have to be honest.  There are times when the words “It’s just too hard!” come out of our daughter’s mouth much too quickly.  It creates tension, but we’ve tried really hard not to step in with homework at those moments just to get it finished and, in essence, making it easy.  She hates when we tell her to sit with something, to think about it, go back and review previous material.  But that’s become our mantra (even with the accompanying whining!) and, lo and behold, there is excitement when she solves it herself.

Thanks to an amazing teacher this year, our daughter has finally come to the realization that math — never something she wanted to focus on — isn’t always supposed to be easy, but that if you can take a subject and find the fun in it, that’s the best of all possible worlds.  As a result, our daughter, who has always done fine in math but didn’t love it, has turned into a child who says math is her favorite subject of all.  I know that will change, just as her favorite dessert or her favorite jeans change depending on the day.  But this is the first year we’ve heard her talk about herself as someone who could take on a challenge and not be frustrated if the end result wasn’t an “A.”

When the expectation is to learn and take risks, rather than being perfect, it’s amazing what our kids can accomplish.  Even better is when they learn that for themselves.

Read more from me at my blog PunditMom and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionzing Politics in America.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

More of me at PunditMom’s Spin Cycle:

Home-schoolers Love Ron Paul

Hold Me. I Have a Tween

What Kind of Mother are You?

Image via Joanne Bamberger.  All rights reserved.

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