How can failures help children grow?

Failures and mistakes are part of life, and those inevitable moments also can become character-building opportunities.

That was the message of Michelle Icard, an expert in adolescence and author of three books on the subject, who spoke to parents Jan. 31 at The Community House.

Icard, author of “8 Setbacks That Can Make a Child a Success: What to Do and What to Say to Turn ‘Failures’ into Character-Building Moments, said a healthy adolescence is one that includes setbacks and the opportunity to overcome them.

“We live in a culture in which we are afraid of failure,” Icard said.

By helping parents to see the growth that can come from failure, she said she hopes to remove stigma and fear from the word and the idea.

“I want every one your children to take the uncomfortable path,” Icard said.

Icard introduced her audience to the concept of the greenhouse parent. Like a parent, a skilled gardener creates a comfortable, nurturing environment for his seedlings. The gardener occasionally exposes plants to less ideal environments in a method known as hardening. Hardening, or “hardening off,” allows a plant to prepare for and adapt to the harsh outdoor conditions that come once they are planted outside the greenhouse.

“We have to let them out of the greenhouse,” Icard said.

That process involves three steps. The child must be allowed to separate from the group, which in this case is the family, and allowed to face a challenge. Once that challenge is overcome, the child returns to the family as a better, stronger version of himself or herself.

As important as allowing a child the room to fail is the way in which a parent responds to that failure.

“We learn about ourselves based on how people respond to us,” she said.

A parent’s reaction to a child’s setback tells the child something about themselves at a time when they are figuring out who they are.

Icard offered parents a three-step response to help turn a child’s failure into an opportunity for growth — contain, resolve and evolve.

Containing the problem is taking action to keep it from growing or continuing.

Step two involves the child taking action to resolve the issue.

“It doesn’t really matter what one thing they do,” Icard said, but they must take a step toward bettering the situation.

Finally, the child must be allowed to evolve beyond the situation. Put it behind him and move on, Icard said. Failure to do so can allow the child’s mistake to become part of how that child sees himself.

Icard spoke as part of the Community Speaker Series presented by Hinsdale High School District 86 and Community Consolidated Elementary District 181.

Icard left her audience with a message of encouragement. In preparation for her book, Icard interviewed 30 parents about their children’s struggles. Asked whether they would take those struggles away if given the chance, all but one said they would not. They see now what was learned, she said.

— by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean