Jessica Lahey – The Gift of Failure: How to Let go so your Kids can succeed.

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Jessica Lahey on the Positive Impact Podcast with Joe Horton talking about her book the Gift of Failure and the Addiction Innoculation


Jessica Lahey is a teacher, writer, and mom. She writes about education, parenting, and child welfare for The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio, The Washington Post and the New York Times and is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She is a member of the Amazon Studios Thought Leader Board and wrote the educational curriculum for Amazon Kids’ The Stinky and Dirty Show.

Jessica earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts and a J.D. with a concentration in juvenile and education law from the University of North Carolina School of Law.

She lives in Vermont with her husband and two sons and teaches high school English at a drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents. Her second book, The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence, will be released in 2020.

Jessica and I discussed the following in our conversation:

  • How Jess noticed that the fear of getting things wrong was hindering her own and other peoples kids ability to learn
  • Why perfectionism used to be a good thing but now is seen as a bad thing and almost obsessive
  • The sheer amount of resources available to parents and the conflicting amount of advice.
  • Parents fear of being the ‘first one’ to break from cover.
  • How the most common feedback Jess gets from kids is that they feel compared to their parents and siblings and that they don’t feel heard.
  • Why low self-esteem is not helped by telling kids how great they are.
  • The misunderstanding of praise as mentioned by Carol Dweck in Mindset.
  • The realisation Jess came to that she was not helping kids in her classroom at the same time as she was using controlling parenting methods with her own kids.
  • How showing children that what they are learning is relevant to them, builds self-efficacy, emotion, and the belief that they could use this knowledge in the world.
  • In Edward Deci – Why do we do what we do: Understanding Self Motivation he talks about interpersonal connections but as a teacher it has go between what is being learnt and going on in the outside world. How do we make these connections on an interpersonal, academic and material level?
  • Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation and how this works.
  • How there can be negative and positive extrinsic motivators.
  • Why extrinsic motivators don’t work for rewarding children e.g. reward charts.
  • How parents can communicate with their children and discuss with them how they are going to go about their day.  The simple act of asking them, rather than controlling them.
  • Giving your kids the opportunity to see the natural consequences of their actions, just as they would in the real world.
  • The application of autonomous parenting for kids with Autism and how it can be a good thing for them.
  • The differing challenges parents face and how Jess referenced the boy who was given 100% responsibility and fully rose to the challenge.
  • How 90 day plans are excellent for bedding in habits in children. KJ Dell Antonia, How to be a happier parent.
  • The current discussion within the education system and how a similar discussion is going on in the entrepreneur space as to how kids are being prepared for the work place as referenced in: Adam Grant Originals, Tim Harfords Book Adapt.
  • How executive function works and why it presents such a challenge for early teens but at the same time is the reason why they present as such endearing challenge for teachers. Why executive function has such an influence on a kids bandwidth.
  • The stress of transitions on children, giving kids control makes them feel a lot less helpless. Martin Seligman – Learned Helplnessness
  • Jess’s top tips for parents:
  • What is my long term goal here? – parenting is a long term thing.
  • Stay focussed on the process rather than the product – also model the behaviour you want to see in your children
  • Remember the power of the world ‘yet’ – kids aren’t able to do things ‘yet’.

Stuff we mentioned in our conversation

Jessica Lahey – The Gift of FailureHow the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed

Carol Dweck – Mindset

Edward Deci – Why we do what we do the science of self-motivation

Jessica Lahey – Bibliography from the Gift of Failure

KJ Dell Antonia – How to be a happier parent.

Adam Grant – Originals

Tim Harfards – Adapt

Martin Selligman – Learned Helplnessness

How you can link up with Jessica


Twitter: @jesslahey

Instagram:          @teacherlahey


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