How to let boys, Cub Scouts, children fail.  I know that title sounds like I am going to give you answers, but as I start this article I already know that it’s actually going to contain more questions than answers. I am hoping that those of you reading this may actually have some ideas to share with the rest of us.  I read a poster in my kids’ school the other day that said “Typos are proof that you are Typing.” This got me thinking about letting kids make mistakes and letting them fail.

Failure T. EdisonA few weeks ago I read and shared on Facebook an article online called “Why am I a Scout Leader” by Jason O’Donnell. One line in particular caused me think about this concept over and over in the weeks since I first read his article. He said, “Good Scout leaders aren’t babysitters; they don’t mollycoddle or faux parent. Contrary to the instincts of a parent or a teacher, a Scout leader provides a child the opportunity to experience risk.”  

Now, he is writing more specifically about Boy Scouts, and in fact he goes on to say ” Adult Scout leaders facilitate the desires of their Scouts to experience risky endeavors, and give them a chance to identify their strengths, to learn more about themselves, and ultimately build confidence and their character. Their job is to listen to the goals expressed through the patrol system, and instead of responding with “are you guys CRAZY?”, answering with “how do we make it happen?” So maybe this idea applies more to the older boys—Cub Scouts don’t use the patrol method. But I think the general idea still applies to all children.  They need to have experience with failure when they are young so they know how to handle it when they are older.

Fail Quote 1We all know that failing is a part of life and everyone is going to experience it to some degree or another at some point in their life.  The general parenting style for many, as well as a current common social idea is that we should protect our children from failing.  In order to preserve or protect their self-esteem, they need to always succeed. Even in sports these days, when the kids are young they don’t officially keep score—so that there is no “official” winner or loser.  I’m not sure this is truly the best thing for kids.

I’m not saying that we should build in automatic failure or even hope for failure, but when and if it happens we need to let it happen naturally.  A boy who has always been protected and been assured of success may have a rude awakening the first time he ventures out on his own into the real world and discovers that maybe he is not quite the superstar that his parents always led him to believe.

Failure M JordanIf every game a boy ever played in Cub Scouts were the type where everyone is a winner (Don’t get me wrong, these types of games have their place too), if he is never allowed to try something new that could be perceived as a little risky or dangerous, if we don’t let him “waste” all his money (which, when he is little may only be a few dollars) on a cheap toy from the dollar store (that we as adults know will probably break the second time he plays with it), how does he learn the lessons he needs to be able to analyze the risk, determine the worth, etc. of the purchase he wants to make at 17 with “all his money” to buy his first car? There is SO much to be learned from failing.Fail quote 2

So, how do you LET kids fail?  It’s hard to see your kids struggle and fail. Psychologically, I know children need to experience failure,especially when they are young, and it’s really not that important (read, not life-damaging), but emotionally, as a Mom… it’s hard. As a mother of five children I feel like it’s one thing to consider how to do this with my own children and yet it’s a little different when dealing with other people’s children.  How can we as Cub Scout leaders find that balance between keeping things SAFE—too safe and they don’t learn and grow; and HARD—which provides them the opportunity to try new things, to grow, to learn, to succeed and yes, maybe to fail?  I told you I would be leaving lots of questions… But let me get to the suggestions.

My first suggestion—and I’d love to have you add more in the comment section—is:

  1. Follow the program—If you follow the Cub Scout program there is lots of fun, learning, and opportunity to grow and try new things and even the possibility for failure too.
  2. Know your boys—some boys can handle competition and possible failure and some may not be quite ready yet. There is often an interesting dynamic in a den full of boys—be aware of it.
  3. Involve the parents/family—One reason that permission slips are a good idea when planning an event is that they let parents know what you plan to do or where you plan to go and allow them to “opt” in or out if they want to.
  4. _____________—What are your suggestions?  How can Cub Scout Leaders let Cub Scouts fail? Or should we even worry about it?Fail W Churchill
Annaleis Smith
Is a “stay at home” mom of 5 (3 boys). She has been a Cub Scout leader (Cubmaster, Den Leader, Roundtable Staff & more) for over 13 years. She is currently a Cubmaster (2nd time), a Unit Commissioner and a member of the Executive Board for the Utah National Parks Council.

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