You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page.
Today, I want to talk about holding space for your child to fail. Which freaks a lot of parents out because- nobody wants to see their child fail. That’s why you’re all here- you’re putting conscious effort into your own parental education so that your child WON’T fail. So this is a hard concept for a lot of parents to wrap their heads around.
We talk a lot, here on the MudRoom and in the Parenting Posse about telling kids what TO DO instead of telling them what not to do. I’ve seen a lot of you have that lightbulb moment about the difference between the two. But then many came back after giving it a whirl and post some variation on “I tried it! And he didn’t do it. He kind of tried, but it didn’t work out and everybody ended in tears anyways- what am I doing wrong?” Who has ever thought them to themselves- what am I doing wrong?
So here’s the thing: Telling your child what to do is NOT a magic pill. You have to TEACH them what to do. Which means that they’re LEARNING what to do. And in order to learn what works, you have to try and fail.
There’s a quote by Samuel Beckett that goes…
Failure is an essential part of the learning process.
And notice that I call it a learning PROCESS. Very rarely will you show anyone anything and have them pick it up flawlessly instantly. When I learned to knit I frogged my first like- 40 projects and started over because I kept messing up. When I learned to use a baby wrap I literally chucked Logan over my shoulder and almost dropped him- I didn’t, but it was a close thing. I FAILED at teaching my baby to sleep for the first FOUR MONTHS of his life. The first coaching program I ran fell flat on its face- NOBODY signed up! I fail CONSTANTLY! And I’m an ADULT. So how can I expect any more from my kids- who- in the grand scheme of things- are just babies?! The important part isn’t being failure free. The important part is – as the quote says- failing better. Making progress. Moving forward. Even if that means that sometimes it feels like you’re moving backward.
Another quote I love is from Thomas Edison:
A process of elimination!
But we forget this when it comes to teaching children how to behave. Inevitably when new members come into the Brain Skills Play Blueprint- which is my membership program- they come in and they try a few of the activities and come into our private group and say “Well, I tried XYZ and it was a total fail. She couldn’t do it.” And my response is always- GREAT! That means you correctly identified a skill she’s lacking. Try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And watch for the small improvements. Come back and report to us every day if you have to so that you can look back at your posts and see your progress. Because that’s something we as parents are NOTORIOUS for: we are really bad at looking back and remembering how far we’ve come. Because kids develop in spurts. When we teach them things, we rarely see steady progress. Nothing happens for a LONG TIME. So we feel like we’re failing. And then boom- it’s like overnight it clicks and then it’s like they’ve had this skill forever and we forget very quickly the progress we’ve made because now we’re on to the next thing. I remember- back when I was doing an early intervention- I had a little girl on my caseload who had hypotonia- so her muscles were very loose- and one of her goals was to be able to jump forward with two feet which is a skill we, who have typical kids, take totally for granted because it generally develops minutes after they learn to jump in place. But this little girl was 4 and she could jump in place, but she couldn’t jump forward. So I worked on this skill with her for TEN MONTHS. Every weekday for 10 months, I spent AT LEAST 20 minutes working with her to build up the muscles and practice jumping forward. 10 months. Full school year- we started in September, my last day with her was at the end of June. And she still couldn’t do it. I’d failed, doing my year-end reports I couldn’t mark that goal as accomplished. So during the summer months when the agency I worked for was on break I mainly did community involvement with kids with special needs and accompanied them to day camp so they could participate just like their peers. So the first week of July, I was scheduled to take this little girl- who was no longer my client- because we were only allowed to work with kids for one school year at a time- to take her to day camp. And I literally met her at the front door of the school that this camp was being held in, and she looked me directly in the eye and jumped forward TWO JUMPS. I never knew before that moment what it felt like to be SO PROUD and SO FRUSTRATED at the same time. Now that’s an extreme example- but that’s how ALL KIDS DEVELOP. They try, and they fail, OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN and then suddenly those synapses that they’ve been growing slowly but surely CONNECT- and boom. New skill. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT is a cliche because it’s TRUE.
I know this is REALLY HARD- but we need to hold space for our children to fail. We need to EXPECT THEM TO FAIL. Success should be a happy surprise. And that’s not being pessimistic. I’m not saying be apathetic and be like “Well you’re not going to be able to do it anyways so sure give a whirl I guess…” But it’s a LOT EASIER for us not to get frustrated when we EXPECT change to take time and expect that we’ll need to support them in their failure. Our job is to expect failure and then help them get back on the horse and fail better.
That’s called a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is:
“Well, I’m going to fail so why even try.”
A growth mindset is:
“Well I’m probably not good at this YET, but I’m going to try anyway.”
Model a growth mindset for your kids- starting from right now. You’re going to try. It’s not going to work out. But that’s okay, we’ll try again. We’ll get better at it.
THAT’S how we teach kids what TO DO.
Now if you need some help figuring out what to teach children to do when they’re misbehaving I encourage you to download my FREE script pack- it’s 10 one-liner scripts addressing 10 different instances of misbehavior and they’ll give you a springboard to start parenting with uncommon sense.