Should we pad the playground of life for our children?
No good parent wants to see their child get hurt or fail at something, and it is entirely natural to want to step in and smooth the way for them.
As a society, we seem to have gone too far though. Suggesting to a fellow parent that we allow our children to fail is about as palatable as suggesting they eat worms for dinner. However, many child wellbeing experts are beginning to suggest that experiencing a little failure or disappointment is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it may create opportunities for our children to test their metal, and learn to become resilient.
As parents, it’s very difficult for us to see the wood for the trees when it comes to our offspring. A bad test result, a disappointing performance with the bat in hand, or allowing our child to receive some constructive criticism from their least favourite teacher, can leave us feeling very uncomfortable. The temptation is to come to the rescue of our children (we’re wired that way) because watching them fail makes us feel helpless, angry and sad for them. We worry about the impact on their self-esteem and their development further down the line. We are, however, doing them a disservice if we don’t allow them to grapple with challenge that is within their means to deal with.
We need to take a step back. Literally. Sometimes the best support is standing at a distance, ready with a band-aid (or a tissue for those emotional oopsies), but not intervening at the first sign of trouble. When something does not go quite our child’s way, we should praise the effort and celebrate the attempt rather than focus on the final outcome too much. This also establishes the principle that the journey to success is often littered with not-so-successful early attempts. The lead-singer of a famous rock band (I forget which one) was once asked how long it took for them to become an overnight success. He responded: ‘About 12 years!’
Sharing stories with our children about the times when things did not go our way also helps to establish the narrative that there’s no magic wand to wave in life. Personal setbacks are a normal part of life and telling our children about the times when we tried something and failed, helps them to see that just because things have gone awry this time, does not mean that every attempt to succeed will end up on the rubbish heap of life. We should also try to help them see some of the more humorous moments that arise out of failed attempts: Gran’s disastrous apple crumble that became a family legend, or a botched job interview that became a story told for decades after the fact…
Sometimes our children are very much in control of the outcome of a specific moment in their lives. Studying hard for an assessment, putting in the extra hours in the nets or managing their temper in a heated moment, are all examples of times when they can exert control over whether they succeed or not. The law of natural consequences tells us that if we do not put in the effort, or if we behave poorly, things will not go well. And when this happens, we need to step back as parents and allow our children to deal with the natural consequences that follow. This is how valuable life lessons are learnt; and resisting the urge to rescue them will ultimately result in them benefitting from what that crisis has taught them.
A crisis often consists of two parts: danger and opportunity. As parents, we often focus on the danger aspect of things, and not on the opportunity to learn, grow and become more creative when a crisis strikes. It’s difficult to step back and watch things play out a bit; but it can be very rewarding to see our children fight some of the battles that they are able to, on their own. It also helps them become more confident to deal with life’s mishaps in a constructive way, rather than looking to mum or dad to step in and make the way straight for them.
If you are ever concerned that your child is struggling, it is always a good idea to speak to someone. As a school community consisting of children, parents and teachers, we can definitely band together in times of difficulty and overcome these together. There may, however, be the occasional moment where we as parents and teachers can agree to allow our boys to work things out for themselves - albeit under the watchful gaze of the adults in their lives.
Director of Wellbeing/Head of PSHEe/
Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster