Adventure and Life in the Arctic

I Want My Son to Fail


My son graduated today. He’s the ripe old age of four. There was a ceremony, complete with all the pomp and circumstance of a high school or college graduation.  Including but not limited to individually handed out diplomas, gifts to the graduates, dressed up attire, the whole nine yards, for a K4 (preschool) class. On the diploma, it states: “Child X Has Completed the K4 Course of Study at Y Elementary School and is therefore entitled to this K4 Diploma.”

Umm, excuse me here, but since when is preschool a course of study? I didn’t even get a pat on the back when I finally finished a 3 year Chemistry Program, and I can tell you right now, THAT was a course of study.

Of course, as every parent would do, I indulged in the event, making sure my son went in his best dress, fresh hair-cut, scrubbed fingernails. We rehearsed his part of the graduation program the night before, he even expressed his nervousness, because “This is a big deal Mommy, I’m graduating.”

Graduating?! It takes twelve long years to graduate high school (which I passed on and opted for the GED instead) but I completed eleven years. Then it took another four long years to earn the  next degree and my four year old gets a diploma?!

I am in no way downplaying my son’s excitement about his school program, his eagerness to show myself and his father what he has learned, I love that my son enjoys school. I love even more that the school system on the North Slope starts kids in school at 3 years old, the preschool program being K3 and K4. It’s wonderful that kids this young get exposed to the school environment at such an early age, my son’s social skills have grown ten-fold because of it.

However, I am now also one of the many parents that has begun to wonder, is it too much? Is praising and celebrating every small accomplishment for our children doing more harm than good? My son earned a participation trophy for completing his swimming class as well, not because he competed in any races, but just because he showed up. Everyone gets an award for anything now. praise-good-effort-not-intelligence

These well-intended practices I think have begun to backfire on loving parents that just meant to foster their children’s growth and development. What it IS doing is teaching our child that there is no such thing as a poorly done job, that if you show up that’s enough. Forget about going the extra mile, you were here, and that’s good enough. It’s not.  This idea teaches our children that they are owed this praise, no matter little effort or achievement they put in, an award is in order.

My son can fail many, many times and that is just fine with me. Failure is a good thing, telling our children they can do better is a good thing. It teaches our children humility, motivation, drive.  It’s okay to tell our children they did something poorly, that they lost, trust me. How will our children learn what success is if they don’t experience failure?

If our children are constantly awarded and praised for everything that they do, they will never understand how much work and how many times one must hit rock bottom to truly succeed. I believe true appreciation of success comes from many failures and having the nerve to get back up and try again. Challenging our children and allowing them to fail is a wonderful way to learn. I know from my own childhood the things that I learned the most from are the times that I failed. My child needs to feel that too, not because it builds character, but it will teach him that success is not just handed to you in the real would.

He needs to know that life will kick you even further down when you are at your lowest, and shove you when you begin to stand up and probably right into a mud puddle in front of twenty people that will point and laugh instead of helping you. That the moment you are laying in the cold mud, miserable and embarrassed is the moment you really begin your path to success. failure

I am very proud of my son, he is bright, he shows so much potential, but he’s four, he is still forming who he is as a person and that is what preschool is part of, growing up, no more, no less.  By giving him an award for just showing up to the party does not teach him any more than that just showing up is enough to succeed. In order for our children to truly succeed, they need to learn to graciously fail and except defeat, dust their knees off and keep trying, to learn to fail, is, in its own way learning what it is to succeed.

And so, I will teach my son what it is to fail, he will know when he has failed, so he in turn knows the true meaning of success, perseverance, and  accomplishment.


5 thoughts on “I Want My Son to Fail

  1. I guess this can be bit hard. Its not bad to celebrate every accomplishment, I guess it makes you accomplish more everyday. It makes you greedy for success to have that accomplishment. Also I would say, its good to fail every now and then. Every child is different and they all have different emotional needs. Times have changed and schools now focus on encouraging every child. It brings that happy feeling of being in school and children like to participate more. Now many kids are multi-potential. I like your thought and idea. Growing up is difficult, one can slip a lot. I hope parents don’t try to see themselves in their children, for some children its hard to keep up with such expectations. The hardest emotion any child can deal with is not satisfying their parents and feeling that their parents don’t believe in them or are proud of them.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Very well said. I totally agree.

  3. As a child, and not a mother – I thought I was the only one that thought like this. The notion of cotton-wool-kids is seriously taking over, and we’re sugar coating everything – no wonder the real world seems so big and bad. I recall reading something about red pens being bad for children when a teacher is marking as they’re distressing – excuse me? If they children of the future aren’t taught to face disappointment, or distressing items like, say, red pen, then how can we ever expect them to face real kinds of failure in the workforce, in social environments – in life?
    I’m not saying children shouldn’t be rewarded – of course they should – but we shouldn’t be building up their expectations of being rewarded without working hard. We should be encouraging them to make the effort and push them to reach their full potential.
    Thank you for sharing – and congratulations to your son for finishing pre-school! x

  4. Alfie Kohn writes a lot on this topic… check out his work. I wrote a handout on effective praise and rewards vs. ineffective:

  5. I love this. I thought the very same thing when my two “graduated” from the same pre-school with cap and gown no less. Like you, I went along with it because that’s what was expected.

    A character in the animated movie “The Incredibles” mirrored your feelings by saying that we are getting comfortable with rewarding mediocrity, which is what we do when, as you say everybody gets a trophy, for just showing up.

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