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Author Jessica Lahey Shares the Gift of Failure at Providence Day School

Author Jessica Lahey Shares the Gift of Failure at Providence Day School

Providence Day School proudly co-hosted the ninth annual Joined in Education (JIE) presentation featuring Jessica Lahey, author of the New York Times bestselling book The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Lahey is a teacher, writer, and mom of two sons, with her second book, The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence releasing in April 2021.

Following welcoming remarks from Providence Day Head of School Dr. Glyn Cowlishaw along with Producer and host of “JPOD Charlotte” Emily Russell, Lahey took the stage to share her personal experiences with failure and what it took to develop a positive adaptive response that could later be modeled for her kids. From her first failing test score at the University of North Carolina School of Law to the harsh realities of editing her now-bestselling book, Lahey candidly and humorously shared her wisdom.

In an age of increasing anxiety among students with a focus on grades and scores, Lahey credited the many advantages of failure. While extrinsic motivators like parents paying for good test scores may create short-term gains, they have been proven not to motivate over the long-term. Extrinsic motivators do not result in better planning, goal-setting, or creativity and can fuel learned helplessness.

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is based on a genuine interest in the area of focus and can be seen in the state of “flow” in which one is fully immersed in an activity. Lahey offered three steps to develop intrinsic motivation: autonomy, competence, and connection. Allowing children control over details (“would you like to wear the blue hat or the red hat?”), letting them gain competence (different from confidence) by struggling with “hard things” while going through the process of trying/messing up/figuring it out, and gaining faith in their abilities by doing better over time – all of these help children realize they can overcome failure. 

Lahey called these “desirable difficulties” things that are challenging but can be overcome, which later get coded into memory and make us better and stronger thinkers. As she said, “the more we push when things get challenging, the more we increase our capacity” for overcoming failure. The audience was reminded that we must love the children we have, not the children we wish we had. Additionally, we cannot just love them based on their performance.

She encourages adults to remember that cognitive development does not follow a constant incline and is about long-term development. We should not shield children from our own mistakes and focus on the process, not the product. “It’s not that you cannot do it, you cannot do it YET.”

Joined in Education is a partnership with a mission to bring quality parenting and educational programming to the Charlotte area. Since debuting in 2011, JIE  has brought nationally recognized educational leaders to the Charlotte stage. Attendees come from public, private, and parochial schools in educator and parent roles. This year marks the sixth time that Providence Day hosted the event.