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Can Your Child Really Learn From Failure?

When my oldest son was in second grade, he was assigned a dinosaur diorama project. So I found an old shoe box and other assorted materials and let him build away. The result was a reasonable facsimile of prehistoric times – for an eight-year-old, that is.


Several weeks later, I attended a parent-teacher conference and noticed the projects on display. Most were exceptional – meticulous, detailed, beautifully designed. In other words, not the work of second-grade children. When I asked if other parents, perhaps, had played a role, the teacher just sighed. Yes, most of the parents completed the projects along with their kids… or even for their children. She had come to expect this.

I was stunned. Partly by my own naivete, but mostly by the extent of parental involvement. Why was it so critical that their children excel – even on such a relatively minor project?

Much has been written about the importance of building resilience in children, allowing them to fail, and knowing when to stand back and let them struggle. Jessica Lahey, for example, describes parents who insist that their children can do no wrong and who rescue them from any sign of a struggle. Other commentaries also highlight the benefits of learning from failure, struggling with challenging work, and building resilience.

Experience with failure can cause emotional pain, especially if it is viewed as shameful, as a generalized sign of incompetence, or a signal that nothing will improve. Too many adults have been traumatized or shamed by failures of their own, and hope to shield their children from hurt. Yet, if failure is framed as a normal part of growth and development, and as an opportunity for learning and self-awareness, its negative effects are reduced.

As parents, we can help children learn that failure is a normal part of life – it happens to all of us: when we burn the waffles, when we forget our friend’s birthday, or even when we lose an account at work. We can role model how to accept these failures without shame, learn from them, and make changes so that we behave differently in the future.

We can show our children that we are not crushed by failure, even if we feel frustrated or disappointed. We can demonstrate how to acknowledge our role in situations, how to sort out what needs to change, and when to ask for assistance if we can’t solve the problem ourselves.

We can encourage healthy independence in our children. While headlines comparing “helicopter” and “free-range” parenting make good press, most parents rarely fall into these extreme camps. Most choose a middle ground and learn what battles to pick, when to intervene, and that some bumps along the way will help children build resilience and confidence. Finding that balance is never easy, but here are several points to keep in mind:

Respect their feelings

First, acknowledge their pain. This does not mean coddling, dwelling on the negative, or enabling setbacks. It is essential to let your children know you understand and appreciate their suffering. As Brene Brown has noted, the recent cultural and media focus on grit and the redemptive power of failure overlook, “the large swaths of darkness and struggle preceding it.”

We cannot and should not dismiss or minimize our children’s pain in response to any failure experience, regardless of how small it might seem to us. Let them know you understand – and that you will help them move through it and past it.

Reframe failure

Help your child reframe the concept of failure. Unfortunately, failure is a big word that carries a powerful punch. We can help our children learn to distinguish between variations on this theme. There are tiny failures – like forgetting to bring lunch to school, medium-sized failures – not finishing an essay on time, and big ones – like failing an entire course. Some sting more than others, but all are opportunities for growth. When failure is viewed as a normal part of life and as an opportunity for learning, it becomes less overwhelming, easier to tackle, and carries less of the shame and embarrassment most associate with it.

Teach coping strategies

Identify the skills your child needs so that failure experiences do not seem as overwhelming. Does he lack confidence? Does she respond to situations in a rigid manner? Is he impulsive and quick to react? Does she worry and “catastrophize” about the future? You can help your child learn to comfort, soothe, distract, seek support, and appropriately discharge feelings.

Resilience arises from competence, and these life skills will help your child develop the confidence and flexibility needed when disappointment strikes. There are many self-help books, websites, and apps available that offer coping strategies. If your child has difficulty acquiring these skills, if you need additional support with implementing them, or if your child is emotionally distressed, working with a licensed mental health professional may be necessary.

Put it in perspective

Your child’s independence and ability to be self-sufficient are the ultimate goals. Keeping this in perspective will help guide you when choices get tough. This is not a “hands-off” policy. Rather, the goal is to help your child achieve independence by setting up situations that will challenge her, creating expectations for success as opposed to perfection, and refusing to “rescue” her from her responsibilities.  

You can encourage your child to take academic risks, helping him to appreciate that achievements are more meaningful when they initially seemed out of reach. You can promote the importance of ethics, integrity, cooperation with peers, and taking responsibility for his role in the classroom. Let him know that actions speak more about character than his accomplishments, and that how one behaves is more important than being the best.

Rather than rescuing our children from the latest setback, we serve them well when we encourage and support their independent efforts to tackle their problems. While this often forces us to hold our breath and sit with our own fears as we watch them struggle, it is just one of many challenges we endure as parents. But as long as they are on the path toward growth and development, learning from experience is one of the best opportunities we can provide.

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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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