Your Tone Of Voice
Says It All
The following sentiment has become the mantra for all good parenting and every interested parent has made this statement, or something like it, in the process of raising their kids:
I want my children to have a better life than I had.
And one of the ways parents help their children attain a better life is to help them avoid all the mistakes they made themselves. They assume that “mistake free” is equivalent to better. On the surface it sounds smart. Inwardly it feels good.
The reality, however, is that children managed by this rule are not better off. Instead of being better at life they are emotionally inhibited, stunted, crippled or lacking sensibility. Which means guarding them against disheartening moments might do more harm than good. Like many responses to charitable needs, the protective approach to parenting is a short term, knee jerk response which creates long term damage.
We feel better after force-guiding our children around every tripping point but does this make them better at managing life or just more managed? Over-navigating a child’s life might save them from some immediate “toe stubbing” but can it encourage them to develop the watchfulness and maneuverability to avoid future crashes or manage them well if they can’t?
The truth is, the one thing children will not always have is a watchful parent warning them and steering them away from every life sapping experience. And the one lesson every child needs to learn is how to accept and manage their mistakes well.
Parents earned their wisdom through hard knocks. It made them stronger and smarter and they shouldn’t rob their children of the same opportunity. Second hand wisdom isn’t easy to swallow and every wise person knows that…
Experience is life’s best teacher.
The parent who decides to help their child avoid all mistakes is actually handicapping the child’s ability to achieve a better life. They are making things worse in more ways than one. It might seem like a “good” idea but that approach sends the wrong message and is unrealistic.
Mistakes are “normal” so everyone must learn not only the lessons mistakes provide – how to manage money, time, health, relationships, career, etc. better – but also how they should feel about mistakes when they happen.
The emotional response is important. Some people freeze up at the thought of making a mistake. Others are glib. Neither learn from the mistakes they make. The right place is somewhere in between.
So the questions are:
- Why do some people repeatedly make mistakes but only get better for it?
- Why do some people make the same mistakes over and over?
- Why do some people avoid mistakes for long periods only to bet the farm on ideas that are very risky, loosing everything in the process – the biggest mistake?
- Why do some people seem to never make mistakes and are caustically critical of those that do?
There is probably more than one answer and I am sure personality plays a part but in every case parents are key. That isn’t to say parents are to blame but they do play an important role in helping children develop the right emotional perspective toward mistakes.
The first mistake made by any person is made in presence of a parent or some other responsible adult. If the parent responds with irritation or frustration or disappointment or condemnation the child will “feel” bad, silly, stupid, anything but normal, free to learn. If the parent continues to respond this way the child will develop a phobia toward all future mistakes for the rest of their lives. The ones who avoid “phobic” become glib.
Children whose parents take this approach become sick of all the warnings and fail to develop confidence in the face of trouble. Constantly telling someone, anyone, what they did wrong, what they should do and how they should do it actually sends very negative messages:
- You can’t figure it out without me/us telling you.
- How can you be so stupid.
- How can you be so bad.
- I’m much smarter than you.
Endorsing a child’s ability to manage mistakes is more important than steering them clear of them. Even having someone NICELY advise and correct you before and after EVERY mistake creates a sense of inferiority. Nothing is more condescending.
The reality is, some parents try to help their kids avoid all mistakes – the protective approach – not so the kids will do well but so the parents won’t be embarrassed. That, by the way, sends the worst message of all, rejection.
Everyone learns a lot by experience, especially by making mistakes but their learning is helped or hindered by the responses of the people around them. Constantly monitoring a person’s choices or coming to the rescue after every failure says “you don’t have what it takes to make it on your own.” Unfortunately, after a while the child will believe it also.
The best coaches are the ones who are emotionally smart enough to see mistakes coming and secure enough to let them happen naturally. They understand that the voice of experience is easily drowned out by the voice of ridicule.
It is quite acceptable to warn children before the fact and it is normal to levy a penalty if disobedience is involved – as long as the mistake doesn’t produce it’s own penalty – but compulsive management and belittling responses are deal killers every time. It shapes an emotional state that retards the child’s ability to attain a better life. It also creates separation between parent and child.
The most important life lessons can’t be taught in the sterile, well controlled atmosphere of a classroom setting. Life – the thing we are aiming at – happens on the fly outside the class. So teaching children one on one, face to face or on a lead may not be the best way to prepare them for life.
The truth is parents are learning also and the first parenting lesson they need learn is how to shape a child’s emotional ability to manage mistakes. And you need to learn it quickly.
Oh, and should you make a mistake, your child can learn from that also. Just say, “Oops, my bad!” and carry on.