Our expectations of our kids often define what they're able to do. -Jessica Lahey

39: How We’re Failing Our Kids by Not Letting THEM Fail with Bestselling Author Jessica Lahey

I’ve been telling everyone about this book!

Ever since I read (okay, listened to) The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, it has truly changed my parenting. My mindset about the mistakes my kids make and little accidents they have is totally more peaceful, and the whole time I was absorbing the information, I was thinking, “How can I interview this author so I can share her amazing wisdom with my audience???”

Turns out all I had to do was post something I had done using the Failure Philosophy with one of my kids here on Facebook, and someone tagged her and now — here we are! 😀

This is quite possibly my favorite interview yet, and I can’t wait to hear how it changes your parenting and your kids’ independence too!

Here are a few things we talked about:

  • How teachers are finding that kids these days are literally “less teachable,” and how fear of making mistakes and inability to deal with frustration turned out to be at the root
  • Jessica’s surprising story of how old her child was when he learned to tie his shoes, and how that wake-up call brought her middle school teaching strategies into her parenting
  • What simple three-letter word we need to use so much more with our kids to help them focus on process and progress
  • Why it’s so hard for us as parents to let our kids fail!
  • The reason college kids are taking longer to finish college even though they are really smart and have high test scores… and it comes back to parenting choices, yikes!
  • One simple step to help our kids break free from their helplessness
  • Why “self-directed executive function” should be part of your interaction with your kids, and some questions to ask them regularly (“What would your perfect __________ look like?” “How are you going to make that happen?”)
  • An easy equation for figuring out how much responsibility we can give each of our children at various ages
  • Why the kitchen is an excellent place to promote failure and the motivation for us to do it!
  • How Jessica schooled me about my room cleaning struggles with my kids… #humbling and I can tell you now that when I told my ten-year-old how my expert guest said the policy should change, she smiled ear-to-ear! This is HER favorite interview I’ve done yet too! 😉

If you have kids in sports, want more homework help, and wish you knew what to do with report cards or chores and more, The Gift of Failure is a must-read (or listen to)!

Once you hear even just a little of Jessica’s perspective, you will know you need to get this book! Check out The Gift of Failure at your library, or find it on Amazon here.



Can’t see the video? Click to watch “Letting Kids Fail” on YouTube.

No time to watch the whole video? Here are the notes!

The Gift of Letting Kids Fail

  • 1:38: Jessica Lahey is a middle-school teacher who has taught countless parents how to get out of the overparenting trap with her New York Times bestselling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She’s a mom of 2 boys.
  • 3:07: Many schools are heavily focused on getting through curriculum and getting everything done. Jessica loves the more informal moments of teaching life skills like time management, responsibility, and strategic problem-solving.
  • 4:30: She began noticing that she was trying to teach kids through an opportunity like forgotten homework and then parents would intervene and show up with the homework so the kids never really learned from the experience. Parents weren’t letting their kids fail.
  • 5:17: Jessica shares how she realized that she was frustrated with her student’s parents for jumping in to save their kids, but she was treating her own kids the same way.
  • 5:53: As she kept hearing that kids were becoming less teachable, Jessica began pulling together research on motivation, learning, and parenting.

The more directed kids are in life, the less able they are to learn in the classroom. -Jessica Lahey

  • 7:27: We discuss how failure and frustration intertwine. Many kids these days are so afraid to fail that they aren’t willing to take on challenges, ask questions or try new things. Frustration is a natural response that assists in learning as you push through obstacles and learn from experience.

Fear of failure is a huge block to learning. -Jessica Lahey

  • 10:05: Want a “nutshell” version of what to do as a parent? Listen in here for the one 3-letter word you should use more!

Focusing on the process shows them as opposed to just telling them, that what we care about is the learning. -Jessica Lahey

  • 11:41: Jessica speaks to hundreds of students each year. She does this eye-opening exercise with them every time. The responses she gets are heartbreaking.

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How Can Parents Encourage Independence?

  • 12:20: Jessica shares some strategic questions to ask your kids to show them you’re focusing on the process and the learning, not the end result.
  • 12:44: Jessica jokes with parents that a B- has become the new F because we’re so focused on high achievement. Being shocked or disappointed into no response is called emotional withdrawal of love and that can be very damaging to children.
  • 13:22: Parents ask Jessica often what she does on a daily basis to follow her own advice. It comes down to a question she asks herself.

father parenting son

  • 14:53: Parents tend to be very emotionally tied up in “emergency” situations and we want to fix it. In the short-term it makes you feel better, but it won’t solve the problem in the long-term.
  • 15:54: Jessica was recently talking to a mom who has difficulty getting her kids out of the house every morning. (surprise, surprise!) 😉 Listen as she walks through the problem and a couple of options for how to deal with it in an empowering way.
  • 18:35: Different people respond better to different systems to help them remember things, get out the door, pack for a trip, etc. Your system might not work for your child, but helping them find the way that works for them will get them on board.
  • 19:25: Try to have these conversations when everyone is happy, not in the middle of a tough situation.
  • 19:55: Jessica travels a lot for work and she shares about a time when she scheduled extra time and used this as an opportunity to teach her youngest son how to navigate the airport.

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What if We Don’t Let Kids Fail?

  • 21:15: What about the flip side? What happens when parents don’t let their kids experience failure? Kids are taking longer to finish college or taking a “mental health” year between college and high school.
  • 21:44: There’s an increased inability to solve practical, real-life problems in young adults. College kids are able to take tests and get good grades, but they don’t know how to approach real-life problems.
  • 22:36: Jessica shares about a mom she recently spoke with who continued to manage her daughter’s diabetes into college with no plan to transition her daughter into taking control of her own health and blood sugar.

I want my kid to be unafraid to step out in the world and ask people to help him, or try something without fear that he’s going to look stupid or that he won’t get it right the first time. -Jessica Lahey

  • 23:53: There’s a show on Amazon Kids based on The Gift of Failure called “The Stinky and Dirty Show.” It’s about two machines who learn to problem solve in their community.

mothering parenting two children

  • 24:31: Girls and boys tend to be a bit different in this arena. Girls take their failure on themselves and consider themselves a failure: often considering failures as much more weighty than successes. It’s especially important for us to show girls that they are competent and can achieve big things. Boys are more likely to have an easier time separating themselves from the thing that failed.
  • 25:36: It’s “learned helplessness” not feigned helplessness. We diffuse that innate sense of helplessness by giving control back. When kids have some autonomy in a situation you get some buy-in and they don’t feel so helpless anymore. Jessica shares some examples of adapting this principle for kids as they get older.

Helping Older Kids Own Their Choices

  • 28:00: Once kids are older, it’s less about offering a couple of choices and more about helping them make their own options by asking more open-ended questions such as: “What would your perfect _____ look like?” and “How are you going to make that happen?”
  • 29:13: “Self-directed executive function” is setting a goal, planning and executing the steps to reach it. Kids are less and less being given opportunities to learn these skills. As a parent, you can be proactive and ask about their goals, or ask if they want to make a goal. The start of a new school year and upcoming event, vacation, or new activity are all great catalysts to use as practice.
  • 31:05: Jessica expands on how her family sets goals together. (Parents included!)

Talking about our own goals in front of kids is great too cause then they can see us really struggle when we mess something up and that’s important. -Jessica Lahey

  • 33:16: Technology is a great help for goal achievement. Setting reminders and alarms is an easy way to stay on track.
  • 34:21: It’s a process of letting kids take on greater responsibility. You can’t expect a 4-year-old to remember his homework the same as you would a high schooler. Jessica describes how to know what a good next step would be for your child. Listen in here for some very practical advice!
  • 36:32: Listen in for an interesting study that shows how our expectations affect our student’s or child’s performance.
  • 37:47: If we’re too scared of risk and don’t teach our kids important life skills, they will begin to act as though they have skills that they don’t which can be dangerous. For example, using a knife safely is a skill that should be taught before a child starts using knives on their own and does it incorrectly. When a kid becomes a teenager their threshold for risk goes way up beyond their ability to manage it.
  • 39:34: Kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. As parents, we can help them grow into their potential.

The more kids help with cooking and cleaning up around the house, the more they feel like they’re part of the family and are supporting the family and the less likely they are to suffer emotional damage when something bad happens in the family. -Jessica Lahey

  • 40:02: When kids are given responsibility at home they feel like they are a part of moving the family forward and they are more resilient. Kids need to feel useful.
  • 41:30: The Gift of Failure has changed the way I parent. I can’t count how many people I’ve told about it! For me, it’s been a mindset shift: when my kids make mistakes, instead of getting upset or feeling like I’ve done something wrong (or they have), I see it as an opportunity to learn from failure. It’s not always easy to stick to, but I’m working on it!
  • 42:13: There are periods of backsliding as well as progress. Jessica shares some wise words her editor shared when her son was going through a tough phase.

We have to start thinking long-term. Parenting is a long haul. We can’t measure our progress every single day. -Jessica Lahey

  • 42:46: Teaching responsibility to our kids is a long-term project. There will be ups and downs and progress is measured over months and years, not days.

We're trying to raise kids who won't need us someday. -Jessica Lahey

  • 43:53: Be honest with your kids. Tell them why you’re having them take responsibility and what your goals for them are. “I’m not trying to be a mean mom, but I want you to learn these skills because you’re going to have to do this someday. I’d be a bad mom if I didn’t!”
  • 45:09: Jessica calls me out on my approach to room cleaning! If you can relate to this struggle, listen in for her advice.
  • 46:24: Jessica shares the emails from parents that mean the most to her, and it’s not the ones about improved organization or initiative.
  • 49:31: Jessica has a great tip for empowering your kids to do their own laundry! Find it on her blog post here.
  • 50:51: We talk specifically about working with kids in the kitchen. The key is to get them involved in shopping, planning, and preparation. When they make a mess, they need to help clean up. Jessica shares about the experience that led to the greatest leap in ability for her boys.
  • 53:29: Jessica has a new book in progress about addiction resistance. She shares her experience that led her to pursue this topic and more about what the book covers.

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Resources We Mention for Letting Kids Fail

Jessica Lahey

Jessica Lahey is a teacher, writer, and mom. She writes about education, parenting, and child welfare for The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio, and the New York Times and is the 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. She co-hosts the popular #AmWriting podcast with authors KJ Dell’Antonia and Sarina Bowen. She is a member of the Amazon Studios Thought Leader Board and wrote the educational curriculum for Amazon Kids’ Emmy-nominated “The Stinky and Dirty Show.” Jessica earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts and a J.D. with a concentration in juvenile and education law from the University of North Carolina School of Law. She lives in Vermont with her husband, two sons, three dogs, and two cats.

Why You Should Let Your Kids Fail


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About Katie Kimball

Katie Kimball, CSME, creator of Kids Cook Real Food and CEO of Kitchen Stewardship, LLC, is passionate about connecting families around healthy food. As a trusted educator and author of 8 real food cookbooks, she’s been featured on media outlets like ABC, NBC and First for Women magazine and contributes periodically on the FOX Network.

Since 2009, busy moms have looked to Katie as a trusted authority and advocate for children’s health, and she often partners with health experts and medical practitioners to stay on the cutting edge. In 2016 she created the Wall Street Journal recommended best online kids cooking course, Kids Cook Real Food, helping thousands of families around the world learn to cook. She is actively masterminding the Kids’ Meal Revolution, with a goal of every child learning to cook.

A mom of 4 kids from Michigan, she is also a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, member of the American Institute of Stress and trained speaker through Bo Eason’s Personal Story Power.

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