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Clinical Tip Failure: The great teacher

These suggestions are something you can give to patients who seems at first glance to need very little.


Failure: The great teacher

Occasionally, I perform a well-child checkup on a school-age child who seems to be doing extremely well. He (or she) is physically well, socially well-adjusted, excels academically, and engages successfully in a variety of extracurricular activities. In fact, the child seems to excel at everything he or she does.

After I acknowledge how well the patient is doing, I suggest that he try something new—something the child will likely not be good at, something perhaps even feared (but that would be safe to do) or that the child will probably fail at. I explain that the youngster will likely learn something about himself (and others) by working through such an experience. I add that, if the child cannot come up with an experience that fits this description, the next best thing may be to help someone else succeed—perhaps by tutoring or coaching younger children at the local Y, or participating in some other community service.

These suggestions are something you can give to patients who seem at first glance to need very little from their pediatrician. Patients and their parents who have followed my advice have told me that the experience made them grow in unexpected ways.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, "I find too many young people don't fail often enough, and therefore, they're not learning, they're not experiencing something you have to experience early in life to be successful later."* I, for one, think he's right.

Paul Diamond, MD
Honesdale, Pa.

*Hentoff N: Colin Powell's teen act: The secretary discusses the dos and don'ts of life and politics. The Washington Times March 3, 2003, p A19