To Forget or to Fail?

Have you ever struggled to do something, and when you couldn’t figure it out you felt like you were a failure and worried about your abilities to do the task?

I’ve certainly experienced this, and my youngest son has experienced it too. It started with….the spelling test. Each week my son comes home with a list of words he needs to practice for his class’s spelling test. He copies the words on Monday and is supposed to practice them each night. We were studying before a Friday test, my husband and I trying to help him learn his words. He was getting confused by how to spell the words: ocean and motion, count and country. They sound like they should have similar spelling, but do not. Or are spelled similarly, but sound like they aren’t. My husband and I offered up a couple of tricks for how to remember the difference in how the words are spelled.  We had our son write the words down, we used the ‘flow’ of the letters (e.g. think about the letters trying to stay together in the water) to try to help him remember how to spell ocean. We had him hop on one foot and recite “t-i-o-n” (we thought it would be a fun way to get the letters stuck in his memory). You could see him trying so hard to remember how to spell the words. He was struggling and very frustrated that it was so hard for him. There were tears of frustration at one point. It was difficult to watch, and realize our efforts were not having the intended impact. After 30 minutes at this, we turned a corner, and he could spell each word. We decided he was as prepared as he was going to be for the test.

The following day, when our son got home from school, we asked how the spelling test went. “Okay,” our son replied. “Did you remember how to spell ‘ocean’ and ‘motion’?” I inquired. My son paused for a moment, his face got scrunched up and he said, “No, I forgot.” You could hear the disappointment in his voice. “I guess I failed,” he concluded. I was still processing what he said when my husband jumped in. “Does forgetting how to spell a word mean you failed?” My son looked at him confused…you could almost see his mind working to figure out how to answer this, questioning himself and thinking the right answer might be maybe? My husband jumped back in and answered it for him. “No, it doesn’t mean you failed. It means you forgot. People forget things all the time. You just have to keep practicing and eventually you’ll get it.” My son seemed a bit relieved. He took a breath and relaxed, he understood he wasn’t a failure because he couldn’t remember a few words. He had an opportunity, and the potential to be a great speller. Persistence, practice and not giving up on himself was all it would take.

It was a good lesson for my son, and a good reminder for myself. Even as an adult I sometimes get frustrated when I struggle to do something correctly the first time around even if it’s new to me (I’m an adult after all, aren’t we supposed to know how to do pretty much everything by now?). Yet, I know that’s not true. We all are learning all the time. We can be new to learning something at any age. We have to be easy on ourselves, understand where we are in the learning process, and keep at it until we get it. We have to model how to handle these struggles to our kids.

How do you handle and/or internalize your own struggles? What do they say about you? How does your child experience struggles? How do you help them see them in a different (and more positive) light?

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