THE GIFT OF FAILURE by Jessica Lahey


How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed
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Reflections on the benefits of giving children the chance to experience failure—and how to go about doing it.

A teacher and writer on education and parenting for the New York Times and the Atlantic, Lahey provides an overview of parenting values through the decades in order to ensure that we don’t return to outdated values, as well as to examine the weaknesses of the current approach. This would, in theory, provide useful information toward a new paradigm, rather than simply lurching back toward the end of the spectrum that involves such actions as smacking students’ hands with rulers when they are disrespectful. While certainly not advocating that approach, Lahey is also unwilling to turn a blind eye to the problems inherent in modern parenting, which she characterizes as essentially overridden by parents’ concerns about securing the best possible everything for their children: experiences free of disappointment, a prize for every participant, making sure self-esteem, above all else, is maintained. The result, the author argues compellingly, is hobbling children, leaving them unable to develop actual self-understanding and competency in how to integrate the idea of failure into their lives. Lahey brings her own parenting to the table, dissecting her difficulties in practicing what she preaches. For example, when her son leaves for school without the homework he’d worked so hard on, and she sees it, should she bring it to him and save him from missing recess? The author admits her struggles with holding the line and letting natural consequences take their course. In the majority of the book, Lahey focuses on strategies for navigating the parent/child/school triangle to avoid getting entangled in controlling the experience, but she also considers home chores, peer relationships, and a variety of other topics.

An important, thoughtfully balanced book aimed at shifting thinking and providing concrete steps toward encouraging positive—and realistic—self-image development.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-229923-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015


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