The Courage to Learn Instead of Win

“It’s not rocket science”.

Most people use this phrase to suggest that whatever task they are describing is not terribly difficult – it’s in fact, simple. However, in my neighborhood, the phrase doesn’t quite carry the same weight. Our community is full of actual rocket scientists. Some of the most brilliant minds in the country move to our community to work at NASA, or teach at Caltech… and to send their kids to school in one of the top-performing school districts in the state.

My oldest son has just entered fifth grade and the pressure to perform well is already everywhere. We are only three weeks into school and I’ve lost count of the number of tests, performance scores, and assessments he’s already brought home. Parents talk at parties about which school had the highest test scores, whose kid won the math contest, and why they decided to let their son or daughter skip a grade.

I am not a rocket scientist. I am an actor – it is the antithesis of rocket science. However, my son has inherited my husband’s love for numbers. He’s a bright young boy with a true love for learning, but I already notice a change in him since he’s started fifth grade. His stress level is up, and he’s becoming quickly frustrated with his homework when he doesn’t get things perfect the first time.

My goal this year is to help preserve his natural curiosity for problem solving by focusing more on the process than the outcome. I’m examining my own parenting style, and making a conscious effort not to get caught up in our local parent culture of achieve, achieve, achieve.

I don't want the fear of failure to diminish my son's love of learning. Click To Tweet

A book that I have found particularly useful is a book by Jessica Lahey called “The Gift of Failure”. I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to meet Jessica through in DC last year. I am an ambassador for their #TalkEarly campaign – a campaign with the goal of helping parents create a “culture of conversation” and model healthy behaviors for their kids.

One thing Jessica’s book really reinforced for me is how focusing on the grade, score, or outcome can lead to “over-parenting”. While it often comes from a place of love and desire for our kids to succeed, “directive/controlling” parenting can actually break down a kid’s own natural motivation and resilience.  What does over-parenting look like? It could look like this:

  • Standing over your kid’s shoulder while he’s doing home work, and interrupting him the moment you see he’s doing a problem wrong. Correcting the homework so that it gets turned in at 100%.
  • Running back to the school to pick up a math book because he forgot it, and you don’t want him to look irresponsible or fall behind in class.
  • Standing over him as he practices piano, ready to stop him at a wrong note.
  • Focusing on the one word that was spelled wrong on the spelling test instead of the twenty four others that were spelled correctly.

The above are all things I have NOT done, but have definitely had the impulse to do.

How will the teacher know what concepts he may be stuck on if his homework is turned in already corrected? How will he learn to teach himself a song on the piano by reading the music and muddling through, if I don’t give him the space to do so? I am trying to find that balance between motivating my son to be his best self, while loving him at whatever stage he is at in his learning process. It’s not easy for me or my type-A husband, but I believe it’s worth it.

A perfect score or the highest grade does not determine his worth as a student nor mine as a parent. Click To Tweet

It’s through failure that he will learn resilience. It is through challenge that he will develop character. It is the effort that deserves praise, the openness to take a leap, and the getting back up when we fall…

Because there will be mistakes, whether academic or social. I hope our home environment is one in which we can talk about our mistakes openly, so we can encourage each other to learn from them.

I hope he will dare to fail…

and have the courage to learn again and again.

That’s what will really help him in life.

Actually, he naturally already does that… maybe his mom and dad just need to practice staying out of his way.

A student's job is to LEARN not to win. Click To Tweet


*I am a #TalkEarly ambassador for This post is sponsored, but all opinions are my own.




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