If You Want Your Daughter to Be Successful Let Her Fail Over and Over

A few years ago, I received notes to a contract I'd drafted at work. As I flipped the pages and saw so many red correcting marks, I blinked hard to fight the sting of tears in my eyes. My reaction was a shocking revelation; I was a full-grown adult who'd graduated from law school and worked in a big law firm, and I still hadn't become accustomed to failure. Experts, however, wouldn't have been surprised by my sudden watery eyes in seeing my first draft was a bomb; research shows failure hits girls harder than boys.


According to Jessica Lahey's new book, The Gift of Failure, the best thing we can do for our daughters is to let them fail. Since this doesn't sound particularly difficult to me, I believe it's equally important to notice how we respond to our children's failure. I struggle not to sweep it under the rug when my daughter fails or experiences hurt. "Oh, you'll do better next time," might have been the beginning and the end of our conversation. But not anymore.

Instead, I want my daughter (and son) to understand that failure is a normal part of the learning and growing process. And I want to be vocal and clear about that, because if she's anything like me, she'd internalize silence or a quick gloss-over as disapproval. 

Why go through all this effort to highlight failures? Research shows that girls are especially vulnerable to failure and protecting them from it can have a greater impact than parents realize. Letting our girls fail is important for two major reasons: to teach them not to give up, and to let them develop a way to sustain motivation in the face of overwhelming challenge.

Studies show that girls are more likely than boys to give up in stressful academic situations. They only want to participate and compete if they believe they can excel. In one example, fifth grade students were given an intentionally confusing task. It was primarily the female students who gave up and didn't learn the material. In fact, the ones with the highest IQs struggled the most.

Girls with less experience in failure also learn to value results over the intrinsic value of learning. People thrive when they are motivated to learn something on their own, but this drive is thwarted when autonomy is compromised. For example, if girls are trained to please their teachers, parents, and evaluators, or seek external indicators of success, they won't be pursuing what really matters to them. They will continue to look outside for validation. This, according to Lahey's premise, can be minimized by the gift of failure.

The good news is failure is a skill that can be learned, developed, and improved upon like passing a soccer ball or shooting three-pointers. Letting our girls (and boys) fail allows them an opportunity to build resilience and cope with negative experiences. 

The next time you want to talk to your child's teacher about a grade on a paper, or you want to swoop in and make it easier to handle their team's loss, think again. It might be a gift to let them wallow in that failure and give them the space to decide how they want to take that next step forward. You'll be raising a child who won't see limits to what they can handle. 


Image via racorn/shutterstock

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