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Tuesdays with Jane: Are You Allowing Your Child to Fail?

If you answered, “Of course not,” your child may be in danger of failure. If you answered, “Of course,” you may be succeeding at “Good-Enough Parenting.”

Say what?

Well, as Edison put it, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Michael Jordan points out that he failed 26 times when trusted to take the game-winning shot. Learn to fail, or fail to learn, is a new phrase that is catching on with educators.

In The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar points out the very real dangers of ensuring that our children always get A’s (helping with homework or hiring tutors), turn in perfect science projects, or wear only the latest fashions. They start to internalize perfectionism as the only acceptable outcome. And that doesn’t work—in fact it leads to depression and other mental health problems. He uses the image of Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the hill only to have it crash down again, as an image for striving to be perfect. Eventually it all comes down around you.

In contrast, Ben-Shahar describes “Optimalists” as Odysseus, focused on getting home, holding to that goal through years of detours and mistakes, yet managing to learn from the adventures along the way. Ivy League schools are reporting a need to significantly increase counseling staffs because so many top-of-their-high-school-class students have no idea how to cope with anything less than perfection.

A “Good-Enough” parent doesn’t let children get by with sloppiness or laziness, but instead helps each child set realistic expectations. They’re asking what a child learned, not what grade they received—so the child concentrates on effort and not the end result. And, researchers such as Carol Dweck have found, these students are actually willing to take on harder challenges. These parents also acknowledge that they themselves aren’t perfect. They can’t spend as much time at work and with their children and exercising and with their friends and with their spouse and on their favorite hobbies as they’d really like to. They have to settle for “Good Enough”, which is actually the route to happiness. It’s far more successful than pushing that bolder up the mountain day after day!

I’ll never forget a friend of mine who took second in the state swimming meet in two events—the 100 fly and springboard diving. As we headed into the locker room, I heard her mother say, “That’s it. You quit one or the other and take first in whichever you choose next year.” That’s perfectionism.

A “Good-Enough” parent would rejoice in two second places. Of course we want the best for our children. And, if you’re surrounded by Perfectionist parents, competitive parenting can suck you in before you know what’s happening. Make sure you’re allowing your children to explore, experiment, and occasionally fail—after all, failure is what makes people successful!


By Jane Kise, Ed.D. – Educational Advisor and Consultant, 
Jane  writes an insightful post every Tuesday for Kidtelligent. Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is