“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” - Einstein
When my son was six months old, I took him to a Mommy and Me class, which was really about parent training: how to observe your child, rather than do things for him - even though Alessio could barely sit up and certainly refused to crawl. He hated tummy time, and though all the manuals said he should be doing this or that, he had decided not to do any of it.
Yes, I was already worried my son would be a failure at six months old. My tiger mom instincts were in full swing before he could walk.
“No,” the parent-trainer said, as I leaned over and gave Alessio the toy he couldn’t reach. “You’re doing exactly what I’m saying not to do. If he wants the toy, he has to crawl over and get it.”
Ten minutes went by. My son’s immobile fussing was growing into three-octave outrage. The instructor sat back with a smug, blissful smile, watching both of us squirm.
Other babies happily performed the tasks at hand, while the successful mothers looked on. “But he doesn’t know how to crawl,” I said.
“This is how he will learn,” she said. “Put objects just out of his reach. Make him work for it. Teach him now about effort and reward.”
Though it made me mad at the time, she was right.
As an anxious new parent, I felt like a failure, as many of us do. We can’t help but feel attached to our children’s successes and failures. But what are they really? Expectations things will go one way or another. If we drop the expectations and focus on the process of discovery and exploration, things get immediately simpler and more enjoyable. That’s when real learning happens. We all learn best through play.
Experts say when you are looking at a pro of any kind, you are observing 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice.” That’s 10 years of steady work. In some fields (music, writing, arts) it can take even more dedicated time (20-30 years) to become a master. Though talent has some measureable effect, it is slight compared to the power of perseverance.
That’s why it’s so important we teach our kids how to successfully fail - which means how to cheerfully go back to the drawing board as many times as it takes. It took Edison 10,000 tries before he invented a light bulb that worked. Yet he said of his attempts, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” And he has been lighting our world ever since. All those “failures” were crucial to his success. Edison had to find out what didn’t work before he could find what did.
That kind of attitude will make any kid a winner in the game of life - even when disappointments come.
What is a parent’s role in teaching the art of perseverance? It’s a delicate balance: Knowing when to praise, when to encourage your child to try harder, and when to say, “Why not try something else?” You have to be attuned to your child’s signals. Pushing too hard too fast doesn’t work. Praising your children for even simple tasks can result in them being hooked on praise, and therefore more likely to play it safe, doing easy things they already know how to do, and giving up too soon when a difficult task comes along. Teach them that intelligence does not equal success.
If a child connects failure with her own intelligence, it can impact self-esteem. But if she understands that a failure simply has to do with effort and strategy, then going back to the drawing board is not a flaw, but an opportunity for discovery and triumph.
Be brave enough to let your kids see you make mistakes. Learn from everything and keep on loving, every step of the way.