Developing Skills, Grit and Resiliency Through Trial, Trust and Failure

This post is inspired by the genius “Simple School Project” and the notion that perhaps kids  aren’t feral enough.

After reading and agreeing with popular recent articles explaining how losing is good for kids, that grit is essential for success and that a 4th R – resiliency- has been added to child-rearing, it seemed like the next logical, large-scale conversation might be:

  • How do we allow failures to occur naturally in our child’s life?
  • What will it look like to foster independence?
  • Can my child handle what comes along?
  • What can I do to encourage and show trust in my child?

Failures occur naturally when we allow our children to take a more active role in their own lives by providing them with ample opportunities to choose. Young children, with not much life experience are bound to choose to play with a favorite toy instead of getting their snack or lunch ready for school resulting in a hungry belly at snack time. The result is a learning experience that provides good information for the following day and a chance to develop resiliency as they experience a minor failure.

As children grow and mature, parents can foster independence by allowing children to make choices, learn from them, make necessary course corrections, experience failure and success and develop the resiliency they require to tackle any of life’s challenges and obstacles. As the Buddhist Quote says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Here are 11 Ways to Put Trying, Failing and Recovery into the Everyday

1. Send the kids outside.

Often, we send the kids outside when we’ve decided we’ve had enough. Enough screen time, enough rough-housing, or enough whining because they are “bored.” Instead of using outside time as a reaction to enough of something, get creative and spin it. Show the children how you used to make teeter-totters out of scrap wood. Or better yet, leave a pile of wood, nails and a hammer and see what happens. If your child is younger, allow for time to play in a puddle, pile of leaves or muddy zone. There are countless ideas out there.

More on the benefits of letting your kid play outdoors.

2. Ask the kids.

As Lenore mentioned, the middle-schoolers are ASKED to identify one thing they have never done, then they are encouraged and enabled to try. The end result is not the goal. The process is! As parents, we can take this “simple school project” and bring it into our homes by asking our kids, What is one thing you have never done but would like to try? Ok, TRY IT!

Then plan how and when, and simply be there without commentary, as they give it a go.

3. Start small.

After we ask, we have to allow our kids to make toast, knowing it will lead to making eggs and pancakes one day. We have to slow down and say, try it. Even if as Lenore says, “Maybe they seem small, even silly, but in a culture that has created mountains of fear around every childhood experience, these kids (who are encouraged to try) have started their climb. Pretty soon, they’ll be ready to fly.”

4. Share stories.

When we look to other people, to our own childhood stories and success stories from other children, it becomes easier to put it all in perspective. For example, Ringo Starr, a surviving Beatle, was chronically ill as a child and never finished school, in fact he spent many years in the hospital. It keeps things in perspective to think one of the most famous, beloved drummers in history discovered his own talent while tapping sticks to pass the time in his hospital stay. This certainly wasn’t a picture perfect- mom-and-dad-will-make-it-happen-route and he turned out pretty successful on his own, don’t you think?

5. Encourage other parents.

Parents talk. Parents want what is best for their children. Avoid showing off what your child can do, but rather encourage other parents to discover for themselves that their children CAN handle more than they think.

6. Identify your fears.

After your child has chosen a task, it’s helpful to write down the fears you have. Once you do this, you can plan for how you will respond if your worst fears actually come true. (Example: If I let my child pack her bag, she will forget her boots. I am afraid the school with think I am a bad parent. Plan: I will send a note saying I am encouraging my child and if she forgets her boots, we will work on ways to remember them at home).

7. Get the facts.

After writing down your fears, get the facts. If you’re afraid of the bigger, “what- ifs” like abduction, find out the real stats and then plan accordingly. See Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker. Bottom line: instead of putting the axe on an idea altogether, find another way to create the same experience through alternative planning and enabling.

8. Let go.

Here’s where we, as moms and dads, have some work to do on ourselves as we develop the habit of letting go. We can try to control the outcomes and direction of our children while they are young, but as our children get closer and closer to leaving the nest, it is imperative that they learn and practice staying afloat and recovering in the wake of mistakes and mishaps. If we impede their progress neither you or the child will be prepared for what the real world will deliver from 18-80.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

In order for kids to experience and garner meaning and develop resiliency from the lumps and bumps, the ups and downs, the oopsies and flops that go hand in hand with all learning, kids will need oodles of practice time. And as parents, we have our own job to practice stepping out of the way and trusting our children. No parent I know is likely to wake up one day saying, “Alrighty kiddo- this time you’re on your own.” Likewise most kids won’t wake up one day saying, “No problem, I didn’t make the team or I forgot my lunch, I’ve got this,” without some practice. Baby steps and practice it’s good for everyone in the family.

10. Keep track.

When parents keep track of the efforts and outcomes, it becomes very clear that over time, these “simple” tasks add up. They also keep motivation high and evidence in hand that yes, children do benefit from us backing off and staying quiet (grab the duct tape) and showing our kids that we have faith in their abilities to tackle new things and overcome failures.

11. Celebrate!

If your second grader made eggs for the first time (after 4 failed attempts with shells in the scramble), he’s a rockstar because he’s taking on more responsibility and he did it. He made it through the failures, as minimal or as grand, as they may seem to us. This is progress! Have a big breakfast and make it a celebration.

About The Simple School Project

“Every year, Joanna Drusin, an English teacher at a magnet school in Manhattan, has her students, age 11, do a “Free-Range Kids” project. That is, they can pick one thing that they think they are ready to do (that’s legal!) that, for some reason, they haven’t done till now. Once they get their parents’ permission — and some kids can’t, which is why this project is extra credit and not a requirement — off they go to do the kinds of activities that might sound simple or scary, depending on how much local news you watch. Some walk the dog — alone. Some walk to school — alone. One made toast — alone..

YOUR Simple Home Challenge

Parents, let’s extend this into a “simple home project” challenge -and see if you can provide one opportunity to trust your child to do something he or she has never done!