HILLSDALE – Cold, wet weather on Tuesday night didn’t stop about 100 parents from going to Pascack Valley High School to learn how letting their kids fail can foster their child’s competence and self-reliance.
The tips came from Jessica Lahey, a New York Times bestselling author, who was invited by multiple school districts in the Pascack Valley to talk about the benefits of letting children experience disappointment, which she says will help them become resilient adults.
Pascack Valley Regional High School, Emerson, Westwood, Park Ridge, Hillsdale, Montvale, River Vale and Woodcliff Lake school districts co-sponsored the event, which is in its second year.
Lahey, who lives in New Hampshire, is a teacher, writer and mother of two boys, ages 18 and 13. Her work, which focuses on education, parenting and child welfare, has been featured in The New York Times and The Atlantic and on Vermont Public Radio, among other publications and news outlets.
Her talk focused on her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.”
“Over-parenting affects kids’ learning,” Lahey said.
She told a familiar story about a child who forgets their homework and relies on a parent to come swooping into school to deliver it.
Parents in that position could instead give their children a chance to develop a strategy to help address the issue of forgetting their homework, she said.
Lahey spoke from personal experience. She said her youngest son would consistently forget his homework. His strategy was to develop a checklist every night, listing things he needed to get done the next morning before school. His list included everything from getting dressed to brushing his teeth and putting his homework in his backpack, Lahey said.
“In four years, he forgot his homework twice,” she said.
“The title of my book is 'Gift of Failure' not because I want kids to fail,” Lahey said. “I want them to learn positive adaptation to failure. When we give kids the opportunity to talk about the fact they got something wrong, or did something wrong, they learn from that. And that’s called having a growth mindset.”
In her book, Lahey said she provides parents with a plan to help them step back when their children fail in various aspects of their lives, whether it's homework, social dynamics or sports.
Gina Pantoliano of Park Ridge, a parent who was in the audience, said she wants her 15-year-old daughter to grow up to be a self-reliant adult.
“I like to coddle my daughter, and I realize sometimes that isn’t always the best way for her to grow,” Pantoliano said. “I want her to grow up to be strong and independent and resilient.”
Another parent, Julie Nuciforo of Park Ridge, said she thinks many parents are “taught” to do everything for their kids, but realizes the dangers of following that mindset.
“We want to help our kids and we want to step in and save our kids, but sometimes, it seems, the better lesson is to let them fall on their bum and let them pick themselves up,” said Nuciforo, a parent of 11- and 14-year-olds. “Falling and getting back up is a skill everybody needs.”