Would you expect your nine-year-old to start playing a Chopin concerto perfectly on the piano the first time? How many hours of practicing would you expect him/her to need in order to get it right? And yet how often do we get upset with our kids when they don’t act correctly or follow directions the first time?
My recent push to have the kids do the dishes together after dinner made me stop and recognize how important it is to provide them with opportunities to practice not just what they do but how they do it and who they do it with. Our first go around was rough. (Boy … was it rough). Each kid wanted to lead. Or should I say, didn’t want the others to lead. Perhaps their goal was for me to give up on the entire idea and just say, “fine, you guys go play and I’ll clean up.” But by the ninth or tenth time they started to get into a rhythm. They started to figure out that either way it was going to happen, so they may as well make it fun. And they did. They each made mistakes (I have a picture of a very soapy floor to prove it). But learned to help each other work through the mistakes rather than point fingers.
How many soccer games did your child play before they started to figure out how to pass rather than go after the ball with everyone else on the field?
I’m grooming my oldest for baby sitting the other two; giving her opportunities to watch them for five, ten, fifteen minutes at a time. The first few times it’s resulted in a revolt due to a lack of communication and lack of understanding of how everyone needs to work together. But what a tremendous learning experience for every single one of them, including me. After each instance we sit down and discuss what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully over time, they’ll each learn the best way to respond to each other to ensure an enjoyable experience.
Even something as simple as the morning routine, i.e. getting ready for school, getting dressed, fed, out the door on time; has taken a long time to nail down. Oh sure, you can try to get things together the night before. But kids change their minds or forget socks. Or neglect to inform you of a form that needs to be filled out, waiting until you’re closing the door. Learning how to work together and pace yourself properly and work through the stress of the morning rush takes practice.
But how many times do we throw up our arms and give up when it doesn’t work the first time? “I knew this would happen!” “I knew this was a mistake!” “What were you thinking?!” “Why did I think I could trust you?!” “Obviously you’re not ready for this kind of thing!” So easy to just spew the negative and make our kids feel like incompetent idiots isn’t it?
I, like you, struggle with providing them emotional room to grow and learn. To build their confidence through the fine art of screwing up. How difficult it is to encourage our kids to make mistakes and teach them that being wrong is OK and simply part of the process. Especially when it directly affects our own routine or deadlines. But keep in mind that even Einstein knew the power of making mistakes. I believe he’s quoted as saying, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Yes it typically means a lot of cleaning up, or buying a “new one.” But I believe there is a cost to progress, both financially and emotionally. I always tell my kids, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” I mean that in terms of both a project and the day itself. If we can lay our head on the pillow high-fiving each other, regardless of any arguments or lapses in judgement that took place, then it was a good day. If we can rest knowing we learned something from our mistakes and that we’re better prepared for the next time, then it was indeed a success.
Bottom line; the goal shouldn’t be to get it right the first time. The goal should be to learn how to do it differently until you get it right.