Heidi Stevens: In an age of perfection, why failure may be the best thing that can happen to our kids

Heidi Stevens, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Michelle Icard has written a kind and important book about failing.

“For kids to learn from their failures, they must trust adults enough to stop hiding them from us,” Icard writes. “And for that to happen, adults must stop judging kids for messing up in the first place.”

Because when handled with care, failure can be a road map to a better, truer place than anywhere perfection would have taken us.

The book is called “Eight Setbacks That Can Make a Child a Success: What to Do and What to Say to Turn ‘Failures’ into Character-Building Moments.” It’s Icard’s third book, after “Middle School Makeover” and “Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen.”

It’s both a breath of fresh air and a soft place to land, in a culture that can easily make both parents and kids feel like anything less than perfection is a little pathetic — from the photo you posted on your Instagram story to the GPA that’s either opening doors to your future, or slamming them in your face.

“We owe it to ourselves and our kids to stop thinking about failures as conclusions and begin to frame failures as character builders,” Icard writes.


“Because here’s the thing: Failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your kids. Often, it’s one of the best. Young adolescents learning how to become adults need to figure out their own boundaries, values and motivations. Failing is a great way to do that.”

The book is organized into eight archetypal failures. Failure to follow the rules: the rebel. Failure to take care of their body: the daredevil. Failure to perform well in school: the misfit. Failure to show concern for others: the ego. Failure to connect with peers: the loner. Failure to handle their feelings: the sensitive one. Failure to get along with their family: the black sheep. Failure to believe in oneself: the benchwarmer.

Within each chapter, Icard offers guidance on how to gather the truth about the failure at hand, affirm your child while also holding them accountable, triage their fears and yours, rebuild trust and, eventually, find a silver lining in it all.

The sample failures, all based on real families’ experiences (including one of Icard’s children, who she keeps anonymous), include underage binge drinking, poor grades, mistreating friends, disrespecting family members’ stuff, getting suspended and more.


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