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Ever heard someone say that? I’ve not. But I hope I do soon…even if it is me telling one of my own three kids “I heard you failed. Congratulations!”
Most of us know that failure is one of the best teachers. However, we often do not put ourselves or our children in situations where we might fail. In fact, we do the opposite. As parents, we provide curated, planned, supervised experiences with any challenges or risks taken out. So our kids don’t experience failure much. And when they inevitably do experience any amount of failure or some obstacle, it should be no surprise that they give up. Multiply this across our communities, and we are raising a generation that lacks resiliency. As the cases of diagnosed anxiety rise, the likelihood of being a “snow plow” parent clearing the way for our kids also increases. And so the cycle continues. We hurt our kids by removing opportunities to fail.
Camp can be the antidote for fear of failure and our desire to clear the way for our kiddos. Each camper is expected to contribute and do their daily chores. The activity structure is set up to encourage campers to try new things – both in their group and on their own – and those activities provide opportunities to take healthy risks. Sometimes campers don’t get exactly what they want or are expected to wait their turn. As a part of a skit campers might mess up a line or joke or dance. Having this experience reminds campers they need not strive for perfection. On the ropes course, climbing the tree and NOT making the “leap of faith” results in more shouts of encouragement and support than one who confidently jumped right away. The person finishing last is cheered louder than the one finishing first. Why? Because camp is a place where failure means you tried, you find you’re supported, you’re encouraged to learn, and ultimately growth happens. And while there are plenty of small successes at camp the small failures have many amazing positive consequences. Here’s a few more:
Failure builds character.
When campers fail and find that they are still supported and accepted, they develop a deeper understanding of themselves. Not only will they be less likely to repeat mistakes, but they’ll also be more willing to stretch themselves toward their goals.
Failure builds compassion.
It is hard to make fun of a person who failed after having gone through the same painful ordeal. As a dad, I look for opportunities to share some of my blunders with my kids. I try to model that I’m not perfect and they don’t have to be either. Our counselors do the same as they debrief an activity or a long day.
Failure builds resilience.
A common nighttime cabin routine as campers settle in their bunks is for counselors to ask each camper about their day using “What was your Rose, Bud, and Thorn?” Rose being a good thing that happened during the day. Bud being an area they want to work on or thing to try. And Thorn being something that did not go well. Learning to reframe a day helps counselors remind campers that failure is a part of growing stronger.
Failure leads to reflection.
A common “failure” at camp is being homesick. Our Camp Mom is constantly helping campers and parents grow through this. Staying committed to the process of living apart builds independence and self-advocacy so long as parents don’t allow campers to “pull the plug on camp” and go home. Our year-round Camp Mom, Lindsey, loves to help parents and campers plan for camp by talking through expected failures. Sign up here to set up a time to talk.
To wrap up, one great example of a failure turned raging success that your kids know is J.K. Rowling. She was rejected by 12 different publishers before Harry Potter was put in print. In her address to a Harvard graduating class she said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
There is no real alternative to failure. Failure is a great asset, as long as it is followed by support, careful analysis, and reflection. So, like J. K. Rowling, I wish you all “the benefits of failure.” And like I now like to say “Congratulations, you failed? Now, what’s next?”
by Dan Johnson, Day Camp Director