Brene Brown, someone whose books I have written about before, released a new book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution, last summer. Perhaps Brown’s greatest strength is her ability to be a researcher-storyteller. She interweaves real scientific data with entertaining anecdotes. Brown’s other books focus on shame and vulnerability, particularly how these issues affect women. The Gifts of Imperfection encouraged women to be themselves and to embrace their imperfections – essentially not to feel shame about the ways in which they were not perfect. Daring Greatly, emboldened women to “be all in,” to not feel failure, to attempt what seems to be impossible.
Now, Rising Strong responds to all the women who “dared greatly” and failed. They wrote to Brown and asked, “I dared greatly… and now I’m down for the count. How do I get back up?” Brown writes, “I knew when I was writing The Gifts and Daring Greatly that I would ultimately write a book about falling down. I’ve collected that data all along, and what I’ve learned about surviving hurt has saved me again and again. It saved me and, in the process, it changed me.”
Brown encourages us to see our failures, learn from them, and move forward. She calls these three steps the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution. This concept is inherent in parenting across all stages. In fact, scores of books have been written about the fact that parents need to let their children fail in order to teach them grit or resilience.
Grit and Resilience
Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, clearly outlines the skills children need in order to gain autonomy and competence. He believes that the best way to get ahead in life is to build character. And, how is character built? According to Tough, by encountering and overcoming failure, through persistence and grit. And character is just what children need to continue to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Persistence is about knowing what you want and not stopping until you get it. Remember Watty Piper’s The Little Engine that Could? While the little blue engine is the smallest of all the engines, she is the only one who agrees to help the dolls and toys over the mountain. Though it is unclear whether such a small engine can succeed, the engine repeats to herself, “I think I can. I think I can.” And eventually makes it to the other side of the mountain.
It is just this persistence or perseverance that we need to teach our children. When struggling, we need to push ourselves in order to reach our goal. Like all non-cognitive skills, persistence cannot be taught through a worksheet. As parents, we can be role models for our children and teach them that when things are tough, they still need to keep trying. Setting our own goals (whether fitness, educational, or personal) and then sharing our triumphs and failures with our children will teach them that it is okay to fail and then keep on working towards a goal. Parents and educators need to model persistence and encourage second, third, and twentieth tries. That’s what Brown advocates for as well.
Children who fail and then pull themselves up and start again are exhibiting grit. They know that though it is painful and their knees are scraped, they can try again. Without grit, there is no persistence – and every failure is final.
This concept of failure and recovery is not new to Brene Brown or Paul Tough. In fact, Dr. Wendy Mogel, in her book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teaching to Raise Self-Reliant Children, writes about the importance of balance in Jewish parenting:
Parents’ urge to overprotect their children is based on fear – fear of strangers, the street. Fear of the child’s not being invited to the right parties or accepted by the right schools… Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard… Children need an opportunity to learn about the “wave-pattern” of emotions. If parents rush in to rescue them from distress, children don’t get an opportunity to learn that they can suffer and recover on their own.
Here, Mogel asserts that children need to fail in order to understand that they can survive failure and recover.
The lessons learned from Brene Brown, Paul Tough, and Wendy Mogel? When you fall down, pick yourself back up. Take risks, fail, and try again. And, of course, watch your children do the same. We learn how to be stronger and wiser through our ability to rise strong.