“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948
Over the years, with increased access to news and media, we have been bombarded by more and more stories of just how many things can go wrong, how many mistakes we can make, how many opportunities can be missed if we don’t sign up for this and that. Has this affected how we parent our children? I believe it has. I believe that as the pressure to succeed has increased and spread to preschoolers we have found ourselves caught up in a parenting peer- pressure- cooker and common sense has threatened to go out the window.
As parents, we want the very best for our children. We want them to be happy, to find what they love to do and have the ability and freedom to pursue that. We want them to be kind, courageous and confident. But are we really setting them up for success? Are our own fears and anxieties getting in the way of us being able to give them the values we really want for them?
Children learn by experiencing and experimenting. A child is never going to learn how to ride a bike if you don’t take off the stabilizers. In our desire to protect and nurture our children we can be pressured into going overboard.
Common traps parents can fall into are:
Over-Assisting: When your child is struggling to build a tower with blocks, he is focused and even if he is frustrated the worst thing you could do is step in and do it for him. You would be robbing him of a natural learning opportunity. Think about how a child learns to walk, he toddles, falls down, pulls himself up and carries on and we encourage and celebrate each wobbly step.
Overly high expectations: If our expectations for our children are beyond their ability level then too much time and stress will go into attempting to achieve those goals. If children are consistently not able to perform to your expectation they will begin to feel like failures and any sense of self-worth will be threatened. This can have a lasting impact throughout their life.
Overscheduling: Children learn through self-motivated exploration and play, which is the foundation of creativity and happiness throughout life. The only time this can occur is during an unstructured time when they have time to imagine, invent and create. So many children are rushed from one structured activity to another. Although this may mean that they can read at the age of four, or be able to play chess by 3 ½ it does reduce their time to play and explore, make mistakes and learn from them.
Over-protecting: your child can only be brave if you are brave. If every time they fall down you rush over at top speed and filled with panic. They will scream in anticipation each time they have a bump. Breath, smile and say “wow, that was a big fall but you are such a big boy, you are fine”.
We all make mistakes and our children are no exception. How we handle their mistakes and setbacks will be one of the most important things we teach them. Life is full of ups and downs and if we can learn from all our experiences and apply that learning going forward we will be well prepared to take on any challenge with a positive attitude and a smile. Isn’t that what we want to for our children most of all?
How to enable your child to accept setbacks and mistakes:
Teach flexibility: the more flexible a child the better they adapt to new situations and different ideas. Offer many new experiences, have surprise trips, even around Singapore. Expose them to new places, customs and food.
- Teach your child to be positive: even in difficult situations, there will be something to learn and take away. For example, if your child doesn’t do as well as he, or you, had hoped on a test say “Well, now we know what we need to focus on”.
- Teach your child they always have a choice: If you know a situation can lead to a temper tantrum, speak to your child beforehand and let them know their reaction is in their control. For example, “ I am going into this toy shop to buy Sam a present for his birthday, are you going to get angry because it is not your birthday or will you help me choose?”
- Support your child in mastering a skill: Being good at something helps develop self-confidence and self-esteem. This will enable them to bounce back when they make an effort at something and do not succeed. Knowing they are good at something enables them to enjoy success, so don’t always focus on what they find difficult.
- Teach gratitude: studies have shown that gratitude is a vital ingredient in happiness, positivity and resilience. From a young age you can begin to teach children to be grateful for what they have and what they have achieved.
Q: My son didn’t make it to his school’s soccer team and is pretty bummed about it. How do I handle him?
A: Be understanding. Obviously he is disappointed. Talk to him about the try-outs once the pain is not so raw. Why did he not make it? Were all the other children bigger and older? Did he have bad luck on that day? Does he think he should wait for the next tryouts and keep practising until then? Or does he feel that maybe soccer may not be the sport for him, would he like to try out for the swim team?
If he is an avid soccer fan, share his enthusiasm for the game by reading about latest games, save up for posters and shirts. Show him you can be mad about soccer even if you are not on a team.
Importantly, teach him that even though he failed to make the team he is not a failure.
Q: My daughter doesn’t like getting negative feedback – she always gets defensive and argues with me. What should I do?
A: Firstly reflect on how you are delivering feedback. Are you being negative? Could you approach it in a more positive manner that she may be more open to receiving? Children, like adults, will often react defensively if they feel they are being blamed or attacked. For example instead of saying “ You are so messy, look at your room, why can’t you put away your toys?!” You could try, “ Do you think if we got some bigger boxes it would be easier to keep your room tidy?”.
Q: I want my children to have fun when we are together but I always seem to be saying “NO!” “ Watch out” or “Be careful!!” What can I do?
A: Being aware of what you are saying will make a huge difference. Watch out or be careful, really have very little meaning, especially if you find yourself saying them regularly. Be specific, say things like “ Go slowly when you are going downhill on your scooter so you don’t crash”. “Hold onto the handrail on the stairs”. Only bounce on the trampoline if there are no more than 3 others on it”.
Explain to children exactly what the dangers are and have specific rules for safety.
Q: My son is 5 and he doesn’t want to play any games unless he can win. My husband and I always let him win so he feels good but I am worried that we are not helping him. His teachers have also commented that he gets angry if he doesn’t win.
A: You are quite right, you are not helping him. Learning how to be a gracious winner and a gracious loser are very important skills and ones that many children do struggle with. It can take practice. Board games are wonderful for teaching this. I would suggest that you and your husband try to play at his level. That way sometimes he will win and sometimes, if you have better luck with dice, you may win, and that is ok. I suggest you try winning once or twice and keep reiterating how much fun the game is regardless of whether you win or lose.
Q: I have noticed my daughter is reluctant to try anything she doesn’t think she can do? She won’t even draw pictures because she says she can’t. What can I do?
A: it sounds as if your daughter has a loss of confidence. You will need to help her rebuild that. Be very aware of your language and even non-verbal responses. Praise her for every effort regardless of the outcome. The important thing is she will give it a go. Spend time playing with paint, colour pencils, glitter, and any other fun art materials. Make colourful collages, swirly pictures. Remove the pressure from having to draw conventional images.
If you find a skill your daughter is likely to master encourage that. The more praise, success and sense of achievement your daughter experiences the more her confidence will grow.
Another good way would be to send your children to a preschool like Chiltern house forum that uses imagination and discovery in their lessons so that children will learn to freely express themselves without fear of making mistakes.
List of resources:
Parenting Power in the early Years: raising your Child with Confidence – Birth to Age Five by Brenda Nixon, 2001.
Flying Lessons: 122 Strategies to Equip Your Child Your Child to Soar into Life with Confidence and Competence by Gregg M. Steinberg, 2007.
Parenting, an Heir Raising Expereince: Raising Your Child With Confidence by Mary Glynn Peeples, 1993.
Help for Worried Kids: How Your Child Can Conquer Anxiety and Fear by Cynthia G Last, 2005.
Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids by Julie Bort, Aviva Pflock and Devra Renner, 2005.