As a Mom, I’m always predicting what need will arise in the near future. I constantly run through my to-do lists. As I wrote that last sentence, I remembered five things and crossed them off my list. I’m a people pleaser and generally that’s a good thing. I’m also a recovering perfectionist, and that’s not so great. It has stopped me from raising my hand too many times.
For parents of high-achieving daughters, it’s time to reconsider what you want for your daughter’s education. It’s not as straightforward as you may think. If your daughter is a people pleaser receiving good grades and high praise from her teachers, she has already worked out the game of school, and she is rocking it. But is she on her way to becoming a perfectionist?
As puberty sets in, girls gain all this emotional intelligence, which makes them more attuned to their peers. They start thinking about how others view them and in creeps self-doubt. According to The Confidence Code for Girls authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, girls aged 8-14 experience a drop in confidence by 30%. Parents and teachers play into their people pleasing ways by praising their perfect behavior, and by the time they’re in high school, many girls are perfectionists. Paralyzed by the fear of failure, they only pursue what they know they can do well.
Taking risks and struggling build confidence because we learn that failing is not so bad. It’s actually how we learn. Girls opt out of confidence-building opportunities because their fixed mindsets have honed in on all that praise for being well-meaning, hard-working, and rule-following.
As said by Mindset author Carol Dweck, “If life were one long grade school, women would be the undisputed rulers of the world.” But confidence matters for success after school.
Kay and Shipman write about how all the traits that help girls succeed in school hinder their advancement at work. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back.” As a parent, what are you supposed to tell your daughter? Try less at school? Just wing it?
The real solution is to reimagine school where educational metrics align with real world standards. School should prepare students for their future by setting up a structure of experimentation and encouraging students to develop calculated risk taking. Our top students should be prepared for the real world and not obstructed by the very traits that made them successful at school.
My husband and I started Hudson Lab School in Westchester because we don’t want perfect kids. We want kind, confident children. While our daughter was “thriving” in a traditional learning environment, we could see she was already becoming a perfectionist. By moving her to a project-based learning environment, we moved the goalposts. While she knew how to complete simple assignments, now she does deep dives into meaningful subjects and collaborates with peers using math, science, language, art, and technology to reach a common goal. While she knew how to deliver correct answers designed by her teacher, now she has to form her own opinions and justify them through research and public debate. She also has to learn from her own mistakes and create her own unique pathways in the absence of a single right answer. In the real world, there’s always more than one solution to a problem and none of them are ever perfect. It has been fabulous to watch her transition over time. It turns out when you change the game, the players adapt. It’s a lot easier to embrace failing when you know it’s not going on your permanent record.
As you talk to your daughter tonight, ask her what she failed at today. Then praise her for her struggle.
Cate Han founded Hudson Lab School, a progressive K-8 school that prepares students for the future while protecting their childhood today. Learn more about project-based learning at hudsonlabschool.com or email Cate at email@example.com.