I learned at Youth Director Camp that when it comes to helping develop people, it’s best to “set them up for success.” We were trained to put our volunteers and students in positions to do things well so they feel the energy that comes from completing a task. The theory says: by experiencing success, people will be inspired to try again in new endeavors. I believe it’s mostly true.
That being said, I’ve noticed a tendency in myself to set my kids up for failure. Kinda a little on purpose mostly.
But on the whole, when my kids ask me to do something for them, I request that they first try themselves. Sometimes more than once. When it’s clear they won’t accomplish their goal, I tell them that perhaps with some practice they’ll be able to do it someday, but I’m glad to help them right now.
Full disclosure: I do this with tasks in which I’m well aware they cannot succeed.
Perhaps it seems cruel. LP would probably inform me of the detriment to their psyche. However, I have little interest in how well they can actually climb into a swing or take the lid off of a toy. When they reach the ability to master the feat, I’m not sure I’ll propose a parade. While I do believe that we must celebrate life’s accomplishments – I’m all for a good party – I think we more often fail at failing.
My goal in parental-induced failures: to flounder enough that failing doesn’t scare them. I hope missing the mark won’t paralyze their attempts at trying. I believe, to an unknown extent, that by experiencing failure regularly, it will take the sting off. Perhaps not all the time, or in life’s gut check situations, but on the whole, I dream for times when my kids come face-to-face with an idea and someone says, “but you might fall!” that they can respond, “yeah, I might” while proceeding to give it a try. I hope that they remember how the momentary hurts fade into the background, especially when they succeed with a second, third or eighth attempt.
It’s not a foolproof plan. It could completely backfire. I could totally change my tune when they start setting sights on plans that include sharp objects, moving out on their own or large sums of money. And I’m not oblivious to the fact that helping them learn to fail well means allowing them to watch when I stumble and fall. It includes the lesson of how to get up gracefully and with dignity – and neither of those mean that you have to do it without tears. Hurt and pain and disappointment are real and allowed, but not the end of the story.
So if you see me refusing to open the pickle jar or button pants or put them atop a ladder, don’t be too alarmed. They’re learning a valuable lesson. And I’m sure after my first trip to the ER, I will too.