Don’t be afraid to let kids fail

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Teachers love it when parents are supportive and involved with their children’s schoolwork. It’s great to know there’s accountability and reinforcement at home because it helps us do our job. It also sends the students a message that their parents and teachers are on the same team.

But when I don my parent hat, I wonder how much support is too much. I admit I’ve gotten a little too excited about a few projects over the years, before reminding myself I’ve already been through school and it’s not MY assignment. On other occasions, I can see how much better their work would be if they just… (fill-in-the-blank). And what parent hasn’t wanted to rescue their children from a looming deadline by just finishing the work for them (hopefully, not outright doing it).

Well, switching back to my teacher hat, I can usually tell when parents have gotten a bit heavy-handed in assisting with projects or other schoolwork. It’s completely understandable – and disappointing.  Learning is a process.  A major part of the process is allowing students to create, discover and work out their difficulties – even if it results in less-than-perfect outcomes. Sometimes learning is tough and that’s okay.

I understand how parents get caught up in grades, because that’s how we measure and evaluate student achievement. We like to see A’s and B’s because they’re symbols of excellence, but learning isn’t always about the final grade. It’s also about what you learn along the way.  That usually includes organizing your time, your materials and your thoughts.

It’s tough to watch your child fail or flounder when it would be so easy for you to come in and play Supermom or Superdad. However, the lessons students gain as they work through their learning (even if it means failing at first) are invaluable.

I’ve spoken to many teachers who have tales of students suddenly becoming focused, hard workers after the shock of a poor grade.

That may be a tough pill for parents to swallow (self included), but it’s worth it.

– Vanessa W. Snyder is a writer, National Board-certified teacher and mother of two daughters in Washington, D.C. The author of a new novel, “The Second First Lady,” and co-author of titles in the “50 Ways to Christ” series, she can be reached at

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