Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers
Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success. He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.
The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes. You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems. You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles. And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.
“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy.” (Silk 51) In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.
Now, it is a lot easier to just make decisions for your kids. It’s easier to clean up their messes for them than it is to teach them how to clean up their own messes, since they certainly won’t do a very good job of it, and they might be very unhappy about it. It’s much easier to solve your children’s problems than it is to deal with the arguments that might result from forcing them to work on their own problems.
But the fact is that your children’s problems are not your problems all the time, although there certainly are times to jump in and take control. In fact, most of the time you will be hindering their development if you intercede. So don’t bail your kids out. They need to experience natural consequences. If they forgot their homework at the house, don’t drive it up to school for them. If they can’t find their favorite shirt, don’t turn over the house for them. If they left their bike out in the rain and it got rusty, don’t buy them a new bike. They need to learn to problem solve, persevere, and experience the satisfaction of accomplishing hard things on their own. That is where they earn self-esteem (it cannot be given to them).
They also need to learn to be independent, and the older they get, the more independence they will need. Now more than ever, our nation is full of momma’s boys, and they are not leading the world. However, your independent, resilient kids will be all the more successful.
“Your children are learning right in front of you, and you must understand that you cannot take their learning (making mistakes) personally. The fact is that the problems your kids are dealing with are the same problems that every other kid on the planet is dealing with…the list is pretty much the same everywhere – disrespect, disobedience, irresponsibility, tantrums, whining, sibling rivalry, back-talking, bullying, low self-esteem, chores, or homework…These issues are not a reflection of what you did to your children. It’s not your fault. These children are on a learning journey. Let them learn. Parents who think that their child’s problem is their problem end up in trouble…When they take their child’s mistakes personally, they are effectively allowing their child’s shortcoming to determine who they are. The only way to respond, rather than react, to our kids’ mistakes is to stay disconnected from those mistakes.” (Silk 101)
This does not mean that we disconnect from our children; in fact, we must do the opposite. We must stay connected with them, while distancing ourselves from their problems. We support them with encouraging, sympathetic words, rather than berating them for their mistakes. We direct them with some suggestions about how to discover solutions. We offer an option that they have not thought of. We congratulate them when they succeed.
We are not carrying them through daily life, but we are on their side all the time, watching them grow up well right next to us, neither spoiled nor neglected.
(This concludes my four-part series of reflections based on the principles in Danny Silk’s book Loving Our Kids on Purpose, which is a great guidebook for any parent, teacher, coach, scout leader, or youth group leader. Read more about it here.)