Failure is an amazing tool. As children grow and mature, parents can foster independence by allowing children to make choices, learn from them, make necessary course corrections, experience failure and success and develop the resiliency they require to tackle any of life's challenges and obstacles. As the Buddhist quote says: "Fall down seven times, get up eight."
Failures occur naturally when we allow our children to take a more active role in their own lives by providing them with ample opportunities to choose. Young children, with not much life experience, are bound to choose to play with a favorite toy instead of getting their snack or lunch ready for school resulting in a hungry belly at snack time. The result is a learning experience that provides good information for the following day and a chance to develop resiliency as they experience a minor failure.
Here are 11 ways to foster independence through trying, failing, and learning.
Often, we send the kids outside when we've decided we've had enough. Enough screen time, enough rough-housing, or enough whining because they are bored.
Instead of using outside time as a reaction to enough of something, get creative and spin it. Show the children how you used to make teeter-totters out of scrap wood. Or better yet, leave a pile of wood, nails and a hammer and see what happens. If your child is younger, allow for time to play in a puddle, pile of leaves or muddy zone. Have a small adventure.
The end result is not the goal. The process is! As parents, we can ask our kids, "What is one thing you have never done but would like to try?" Ok, TRY IT! Then plan how and when, and simply be there without commentary, as they give it a go.
After we ask, we have to allow our kids to make toast, knowing it will lead to making eggs and pancakes one day. We have to slow down and say, try it. Maybe they seem small, even silly, but in a culture that has created mountains of fear around every childhood experience, these kids (who are encouraged to try) have started their climb. Pretty soon, they'll be ready to fly.
When we look to other people, to our own childhood stories and success stories from other children, it becomes easier to put it all in perspective. For example, Ringo Starr was chronically ill as a child and never finished school, in fact he spent many years in the hospital.
It keeps things in perspective to think one of the most famous, beloved drummers in history discovered his own talent while tapping sticks to pass the time in his hospital stay. This certainly wasn't a picture perfect- mom-and-dad-will-make-it-happen-route and he turned out pretty successful on his own, don't you think?
Parents talk. Parents want what is best for their children. Avoid showing off what your child can do, but rather encourage other parents to discover for themselves that their children CAN handle more than they think.
After your child has chosen a task, it's helpful to write down the fears you have. Once you do this, you can plan for how you will respond if your worst fears actually come true. (Example: If I let my child pack her bag, she will forget her boots. I am afraid the school with think I am a bad parent. Plan: I will send a note saying I am encouraging my child and if she forgets her boots, we will work on ways to remember them at home).
After writing down your fears, get the facts. If you're afraid of the bigger what- ifs like abduction, find out the real stats and then plan accordingly. See Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker. Bottom line: instead of putting the axe on an idea altogether, find another way to create the same experience through alternative planning and enabling.
Here's where we, as moms and dads, have some work to do on ourselves as we develop the habit of letting go. We can try to control the outcomes and direction of our children while they are young, but as our children get closer and closer to leaving the nest, it is imperative that they learn and practice staying afloat and recovering in the wake of mistakes and mishaps. If we impede their progress neither you or the child will be prepared for what the real world will deliver from 18-80.
In order for kids to experience and garner meaning and develop resiliency from the lumps and bumps, the ups and downs, the oopsies and flops that go hand in hand with all learning, kids will need oodles of practice time. And as parents, we have our own job to practice stepping out of the way and trusting our children. No parent I know is likely to wake up one day saying: "Alrighty kiddo- this time you're on your own."
Likewise most kids won't wake up one day saying: "No problem, I didn't make the team or I forgot my lunch, I've got this," without some practice. Baby steps and practice is good for everyone in the family.
When parents keep track of the efforts and outcomes, it becomes very clear that over time, these simple tasks add up. They also keep motivation high and evidence in hand that yes, children do benefit from us backing off and staying quiet (grab the duct tape) and showing our kids that we have faith in their abilities to tackle new things and overcome failures.
If your second grader made eggs for the first time (after four failed attempts with shells in the scramble), he's a rockstar because he's taking on more responsibility and he did it. He made it through the failures, as minimal or as grand, as they may seem to us. This is progress! Have a big breakfast and make it a celebration.
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