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Teaching children to fail?

(37 Posts)
Skimty Mon 16-Dec-13 14:31:39

Hi. I started posting this in Primary education and then decided this topic may be more appropriate. I have two children at school at the moment (and one younger at home). All three have autumn birthdays and I am aware this will reflect how well they do relative to their peers.

As a bit of background, my eldest (y2) is 'bright' and especially talented at writing (apparently exceptional 'for a boy' whatever that means) and my middle child (DD -yR) is on the gifted and talented register for literacy because she has been reading chapter books since about 3 and a half (the reception teacher said she had never taught such a good reader at entry into reception).

I'm very wary of labelling my children because I'm not too sure what that would mean and I also don't want to be the parent who thinks their children are more 'special' than anyone elses. However, I am getting worried that they can do everything they are given really easily. DS has had 10/10 in every spelling test this year and only got 9/10 once in his mental maths test (the rest of the time it's been 10/10). DD can obviously do all the reading that they are doing in reception easily and doesn't seem to have any problems with maths.

My concern is that they are not failing at anything ever. I know this may sound silly but I am worried that they are not learning to ever tackle anything they can't immediately do. I try to look at things at home but to be honest I don't know where to start. Also, I feel slightly aggrieved that the 6 and a half hours they spend at school seem to be not challenging them at all.

Can someone just reassure me that it's alright for children to be able to do everything easily and they will be able to deal with it when they encounter things that make them struggle?

Sorry, this is longer than I thought it would be. I find it difficult to talk about his in RL as I'm sure many of you do as well.


perspective Mon 16-Dec-13 17:45:04

I think this is quite a common issue. My ds was/still sometimes is a bit like this. Tbh he found nothing difficult at primary. We started him playing the piano and this helped him realise some things you have to work at. He sailed through first 3 exams with high distinctions the, horror(!) only go a merit at Grade 4. Still only age 10.

I think it's a process. Ds plays 2 instruments and had had to scale back his expectations of what he should achieve. He started at secondary but still doesn't really struggle with anything except the maths extension work he is set ( which is A level) and he's in Y 7. BUT he is learning bit by bit that its ok not to get 100% in everything. For him it's his own internal standards.

I tried all sorts of things, even mucking up cakes and then poking fun at myself. He just took over the cake making.......

alcibiades Mon 16-Dec-13 19:59:41

I think I can understand where you're both coming from. I feel it's not so much about children experiencing failing to get 100% every time, which means they don't then have to go back and puzzle out where they went wrong, but not learning how to learn. If they're not stretched in the earlier years, they could hit a brick wall later on when presented with work they can't just breeze through. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to me, and might have happened to my eldest if I hadn't had a clue at the time.

Consistently getting ~100% on maths/spelling tests is an indication that the school is not differentiating enough. It is difficult, I know, to refer to your children as being bright or gifted, because so many people really don't understand. But being ahead of their age cohort in maths/spelling isn't that much different from children being ahead of their age cohort in walking/talking. It isn't about what they should be doing at any particular age, it's about what they are doing (and you can't and shouldn't stop them, as both of you and I already know).

A talk with the school is obviously the next step. But learning/education doesn't have to solely happen in school hours. Music is a good idea, because that exercises so many parts of the brain at once. You might find other ideas from browsing through the Home Education area.

Skimty Mon 16-Dec-13 20:31:38

Thanks. We've started violin for DS and DD can start when she is in Year 2. They do do lots of activities but seem to be quite good at them which doesn't really help. I like what you write Alcibiades about not learning how to learn which I think is what is happening at the moment.

I can also empathise with the taking over the cake making Perspective! I think I get worried about DD more than DS because she's such a perfectionist and if she doesn't get 100% will often just go off and read frantically.

I think I may go into school in the New Year and I will check out Home Ed board.


lljkk Mon 16-Dec-13 20:56:25

hmmm... so they are fantastic at drama, dance, every sport, art, ICT, science, socialising AND being quiet when told? Coz truly would be a Gifted child who excelled at all of those as well as ordinary academics.

nonicknameseemsavailable Mon 16-Dec-13 21:24:36

I spoke to DD1's teacher at parents evening and said I was a bit concerned because she is reluctant to try things if she can't do them straight away and because she was always finding school work easy and getting it all right I was concerned she wasn't learning that it was ok to make a mistake or to have to relook at something. She made the work harder. DD got cross about this at first because she said she had to think about the work and that wasn't fair but she is used to that now so I am pleased she is learning that she should have to use her brain. She has also made a couple of mistakes with things which the first time caused hysteria, the second time she was really mature about it and handled it very well so I feel she is learning now how to try new things, how to deal with mistakes and how to think carefully about things.

perspective Mon 16-Dec-13 21:26:37

No, not brilliant at everything, but ds works really hard at things he's not so good at in order not to ' fail' by his own standards. He wants to do everything, therefore do it well. It's a quality I really admire in him. So he trains hard for rugby and football and whilst not brilliant is good enough for some school B teams. Plays in bands, orchestra, volunteers for school play. Any snif of possible failure makes him try harder. But this is a skill he developed. As a younger child he would not even try something unless he could go it perfectly. Didn't toddle, just waited until he could walk. Didn't babble much, edited until he could put together short sentences etc.

But his social skills are shocking ( and not helped by bring a ore teen.....)

perspective Mon 16-Dec-13 21:27:59

Or even a pre teen.

Skimty Mon 16-Dec-13 21:29:37

Well, they're only 5 and 7 so they're not fantastic at everything and certainly not always being quiet when told! DD also struggles a but with socialising but they do both like drama and dance. I don't know about science. They don't have enough time nor me enough money to pursue everything you've mentioned.

The things they do do they seem to find easy. Of course, they don't really pursue the things they find hard because most people don't so that's why I would rather they were doing things at school that they had to do.

I also don't think they are 'gifted' in a truly exceptional way. I just think that at the moment they are coasting through life and I worry that they will find it harder when they face challenges as they will because they will obviously struggle with some things.

mintberry Mon 16-Dec-13 21:34:25

Hmm, I imagine there are no 'right' answers to this, but since it is a concern for you, maybe you could consider encouraging hobbies that will challenge them academically outside of school, such as learning a musical instrument.

Acinonyx Tue 17-Dec-13 19:32:53

I do worry about this because a real life job as an adult involves mundane amounts of effort - and if you don't meet that earlier it comes as a terrible shock. I coasted all the way to uni graduation and it then took decades to come to grips (somewhat imperfectly) with actual work. I'm probably lazy by nature - but all the more reason to train young. I see my own dd taking the easiest route at every opportunity and I want her to come to terms with expending effort, facing failure, and persevering.

As minty suggests - music is a great experience in having to work at something.

alcibiades Tue 17-Dec-13 20:36:11

I also coasted, Acinonyx, but not as far as you did. When the going got tough, I didn't know how to push through. And I couldn't identify the problem. I ended up thinking that somehow despite passing the 11+, I was basically just "thick" and my 11+ results were a mistake. Very many years later, for complicated reasons, I took the Mensa test and whatever it is that IQ tests measure, I measured in the top 1%. That was actually very, very upsetting. What could have I achieved if somebody, anybody, had realised that I didn't know how to learn, so I didn't have the tactics for pushing through?

Now I'm retired, and spending quite a lot of time on learning just for the sheer fun of it. Some of that is expensive, but I've so far done three free courses through: - which possibly might be of use to you Skimty, if there's a course there that might be of interest to your children. Courses like that are aimed at the interested, but not expert, adult, but sometimes those types of courses can work quite well for a child that wants/needs a challenge - not least because the presentation isn't dumbed down.

PS: Acinonyx - that's a lovely name. I did have to google it, so I've learned something new today. smile

Acinonyx Tue 17-Dec-13 20:53:41

I have likewise googled and see we have traded latin for greek fsmile

Temperament is such a large part of success in life. Smarts are not enough without drive, perseverance and discipline.

PiqueABoo Tue 17-Dec-13 23:51:51

We have a blissful, easy life in this respect: 10yo DD was born self-challenging and can deliver some very serious focus and perseverance without any hint of Tanya Byron certified failure issues. She seeks harder things to 'conquer', imperfections are cheerfully rationalised away and if something is easy for her then she'll find some way to add challenge e.g. how fast or how many.

Noting the "decades" above if it's not in a child's nature then I wonder how much you can compensate? DD definitely takes qualities to the table, rather than takes them from it.

ZombieSquirrel Wed 18-Dec-13 00:12:28

I was completely terrible at working. Really had no work ethic, coasted and cruised. As a result, my self esteem falls apart at even a tiny, tiny failure and I've had to work very, very hard as an adult to ensure that I don't take failure so badly, and that I work hard at everything instead of lazing.

I would think about small games at home. Even stuff like tag, hide and seek, table tennis, can help them learn small failures. Not being the winner all the time. Start small and they will see it as fine and ordinary.

Lonecatwithkitten Wed 18-Dec-13 08:45:32

I take a different view and only reward effort so if you get 10/10, but haven't put in any effort I'm unimpressed. A beautifully researched well present work gets loads of praise even if it is not perfect.
So as long as you try your best that is what makes me proud even if you fail.

Acinonyx Wed 18-Dec-13 08:51:16

PiqueABoo - I'm not surely you can necessarily compensate - it's just worth a try!

theendgame Wed 18-Dec-13 15:42:05

I think you're right to be worried, and there is a whole bit of educational theory these days about learning 'resilience' which is exactly what you are on about.

There's a very useful book by Carole Dweck called Mindset which I think would be a good read for you (it's one of those American books which is basically a long article padded out). A lot of it is about childen seeing themselves as 'clever' and so not wanting to be challenged, and it's definitely changed the way we praise DD. Now we're much more focussed on effort than results.

We've also decided that as DD is doing fine academically to focus on things she's not so good at, which for her is co-ordination and we're forever reminding her how much she had to practice to learn to ride her bike and praising her each time she gets a bit further up the climbing frame.

Skimty Wed 18-Dec-13 17:36:42

I'm pleased to see that I'm not being ridiculous worrying about it - it feels a bit mean to say 'my children are finding it too easy, how can I make it harder' but a lot of what you have all said has resonated with me. When I was at university I could have done well but I 'lacked academic rigour' and DH was very precocious as a child but dropped out of university because he was essentially lazy and had never learnt to work at anything.

I think the problem is compounded because they are the oldest in their class and if they could be moved up they would probably find things more challenging. I will sit down over Christmas and look at ways we can help them 'fail' gently.

We're making DD join the choir (because it's when DS has hockey and it means she doesn't have to stand around in the cold and watch him!) Like her mother she is completely tone deaf so that should be interesting!

theendgame Wed 18-Dec-13 18:20:59

I think I would watch your son carefully, because Year 2 is a hard year. Bright/gifted children are ready for the broader topics and challenge of KS2 but have another whole year of basic arithmetic and learning to read. So as well as everything else you probably should be asking the school to challenge them more. (DD is in Yr2 currently, so I say this from bitter experience but I won't bore you with the whole saga. Suffice to say that we are now moving to another school where there will be some form of challenge.)

Oh, and I'd say that a three and a half year old reading chapter books is beyond just bright and heading well into the area of gifted. grin

Skimty Wed 18-Dec-13 19:43:04

Surely not on Mumsnet! I though chapter books at 3 and a half was bit slow wink

We definitely had a colouring in year last year and I've decided we're not having another one this year. It actually made DS quite sad last year I think because he was bored and he got a bit withdrawn so we're determined to ensure he gets challenged enough. Chat with school next year methinks

nonicknameseemsavailable Wed 18-Dec-13 20:53:30

I have also done a bit of concious 'making mistakes' myself or showing how I have to practice something a few times before getting it right etc.

simpson Wed 18-Dec-13 22:35:42

I agree with theendgame in that my DS (now yr4) who is very bright found yr2 tough because he was ready for more and I don't just mean the academic stuff, I mean more independence, more responsibility etc.

Having said that, he had a fab yr3 but yr4 is not going so well sad and he has moaned at home (for the first time ever, he is not a moaner) that the work is too easy. So I think I will be another one having a chat with his teacher in the New Year grin

OldRoan Wed 18-Dec-13 22:46:22

I would look into open ended problem solving. They can find an answer, so won't be 'wrong', but it isn't the only answer. They can challenge themselves to find a second answer to the same question.

Not 'failing' as such, but a way to show them that there isn't always one fixed answer that you have to find, and the way you approach something can be just as important. I agree it is a difficult, and important, thing to be able to do.

Acinonyx Thu 19-Dec-13 08:50:00

simpson - my yr 4 dd is complaining about school for the first time sad She says it's boring and I'm not sure how much of that is because it's easy - or rather - I'm not sure that that is specifically why it's boring. I had thought she was more engaged this year - but it's only the extracurricular clubs/activities that she seems to enjoy. I just don't know how to approach it - maybe school just is boring.....

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