Tuesday, February 14, 2017


One of the things that kids today are not allowed to do a lot of is to fail. We try our darndest to protect them against failing. Offering them pre-emptive help, berating them for failing and instilling the fear of failing in them because that leads to them not doing well and not doing well causes them to not be able to get into good schools and not getting into good schools causes them to not get good jobs and then they will be broke and homeless. Or so the cautionary tale goes.

It's hard not to get sucked into it. It's so much part of our vocabulary. It leaves our lips before we can stop ourselves.

One of JED came home with a badly done math paper and hides it from us. Another of JED calls from school to dejectedly inform me of failing Chinese. Another had an entire page of math streaked with angry red crosses.

How do we respond?

The immediate, instinctive reaction is the Tiger Mom one.
1. To be accusatory: WHY DID YOU FAIL?
2.  To be reactive: More with the tuition!
3. To be punitive: No more toys, no more TV.
4. To be self-flagellating: It's my fault. I haven't done enough work with them. I haven't been home enough.

But then, when those thoughts have been processed, the lingering question is "To what end?". Would more tuition help? Would punishment help? Would my sitting beside them all the time be of advantage to them?

Then the more reasonable Mom struggles to take control.
1. Failing is good. At least JED learn to fail. Learn to cope with failing. I did have a 'gua gua gua' moment when the math paper was discovered. Because that's something so rare in our lives.
2. Failing allows for introspection. Why did they fail? Lack of preparation? Lack of comprehension? Lack of motivation?
3. Failing allows for longer term solutions. How can it be fixed? Should WE fix it? Or should the child learn to fix it?

The latter is really hard to do. It isn't as solution-oriented. The outcomes take a long time to surface. And we really do struggle to not be reactive. It's so easy to panic. It's so easy to get sucked into the vortex of grade obsession.

So the important thing is for us to remember is that in the larger scheme of things, what's failing a test in primary school? What's failing a test full stop? Do we do more harm than good when we prevent them from failing when it isn't of great consequence? Conversely, would a perfect school record be indicative of anything else later on in life?

What are we going to do about the little fails that JED have encountered?
1. We've figured that the math fail was about being reluctant to go the distance. To read the question in its entirety. To slowly break it down. When we sit at the table and help deconstruct the question, everything works. Unfortunately, exam entry usually prohibits a parent sitting beside the child so said child just has to learn to do it without us there. How do we do that? Model the sum and set many others. As with sport, much of math is about repetitive memory. Hopefully.

2. Chinese- well, that's an uphill battle. When I've figured out that one, you'll be the first to know.

3. Fearing the fails- The constant reiteration that they have to tell us if they don't do well because we need to work with them to figure out why it happened. Hiding it from us does none of that. They also need to take responsibility for the fail. And also the undying promise to each of them that we love them for who they are and not what they can do. That while we may berate them when they don't do well, it doesn't take away from how much we love them.

To which, all 3 dissolved into puddles of grateful tears of relief.

For us, when JED fail, we have to learn to not take it personally and by 'we', I actually mean me because Packrat is more chill about it. And the most important question to ask is...

"So, what's next?"


Post a Comment