Thursday, October 21, 2010

what's wrong with mistakes?

Why is it that people think there's something wrong with children making mistakes?

I've been meaning to do a blog post on this topic, and I was reminded of people's apparent need to prevent kids from making mistakes yesterday while grocery shopping. The boys were doing their weekly shopping for their Wednesday evening meal. We were at the store at a slow time, there was nobody in line behind us, so there was no rush to get us out of there. When the cashier told the boys the total ($16 and change), Zoo Boy looked at his fistful of bills and paused. He was trying to figure out what to give her, and out loud he wondered what bills he should use. The overly helpful (or overly impatient?) cashier jumped in and said "Just give me the twenty." And quick as that she killed a perfectly good learning opportunity right in it's tracks.

While she was making change for him, I reminded him "Don't forget about my card" to get him thinking about picking up my store card, which the cashier already placed on the shelf in front of him, and handing it back to me. Before he could even look to find the card, the cashier grabbed it and shoved it in his face. Kaboom, another learning opportunity shot, and worse yet, an opportunity to practice taking responsibility for borrowed items.

It didn't stop there. I had pushed my cart out of the way (I had done a little shopping as well) so that it would be clear to the bagger than the boys' bags didn't belong with mine. When she turned around to put their first bag in my cart anyway, I pushed it further away and said "no, those are their bags," indicating the boys. She scowled at me, pursued the cart and put the bag in there anyway. I retrieved the bag, and as I was turning to hand it to J, she ducked around my back to put their other bag in the cart too, giving me a smug look. I just shook my head, removed the bag, and handed it to Zoo Boy.

Nope, not done yet! As I headed to the parking lot, I noticed that J was only holding one handle on his bag and that his groceries were listing badly to the side. I very purposely said nothing, because what better way is there to learn to hold your bag properly than having all the contents spill out? Half way to our car, a passing lot attendant pointed the bag out, and went as far as helping J adjust his grip on the bag while J was still looking at the bag and trying to figure out what to do about it. So what did J learn from this? Maybe nothing. Maybe that adults are helpful. But maybe that adults will come to his rescue so he doesn't need to take responsibility for his own actions. He certainly didn't learn that if he holds his bag wrong he's going to lose all his groceries.

I know, I know, the people were just trying to be helpful (well, not so sure about that bagger, I think she was just trying to be a righteous pain in the patootie), and I'm willing to attribute a lot of the worlds' ills to people not being helpful enough, so probably I shouldn't complain about an overly helpful attitude. But it got me thinking -- whatever happened to letting children learn from their mistakes? What ever happened to teaching kids to take responsibilities for their actions? Why is it that adults are so quick to step in and "fix" things for kids, rather than letting them learn from direct consequences?

When was the last time you stepped in to help a child when they would have benefited more from figuring it out on their own?

I think this is something that we, as parents, and especially as home educators, really need to be conscious of. By stepping in to assist our kids, we are taking valuable learning opportunities away from them. Clearly there's a line to walk, you wouldn't want your child floundering to the point of utter failure and discouragement. But what's wrong with a little healthy frustration and learning to work through a problem? What's wrong with building problem-solving skills and accepting that not everything goes the way you planned?

Just a little something to ponder as you sit there with your coffee.


Chuck said...

Sorry I haven't been in touch lately - work has been relentless and I have only had 2 half days to myself (which I spent with Ariel) the past few months. I wanted to touch base with you and see if you still needed my assistance with the Turkeys. If you have a chance can you send me an email. The computer crashed so we started over with our emails last month. Hope this finds you all doing well.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. What's wrong with mistakes? People are so impatient, I think they can't be bothered to take the time to learn! Better just to have the right answer, or any answer, just splurt it out, we've got to move on . . .

michelle grimes kindig said...

impatience.... and unthoughtful-ness

Karen said...

I've really enjoyed your blog over the years, but I have to tell you, this one made me nervous. You are completely correct, mistakes - errors - alternate experiences, whatever we want to call them, do teach kids to think creatively and proactively, to consider cause and effect, and to work hard to solve their own problems. But adults can only help you in this parenting approach if you clue them into the approach. A few simple words, like "he can count it out" or "let's let him figure this one out since no one is behind us in line" or "thank you, but he'd like to figure this one out himself" can be enough to build a team of teachers. Expecting everyone (including people who do not necessarily have children) to both understand your teaching method and employ it automatically is a little unrealistic. Informing other adults, however, can make day to day interactions much more educational and enjoyable and maybe help keep you from being so frustrated with your fellow helpful, albeit not in ways you may want, neighbors.

Just a thought! And thank you for sharing your teaching experiences. My daughters and I have benefited greatly from your sharing.

Harvest Moon said...

Karen, I can see your point, and as I admitted in the post itself, I would reather see people err towards being overly-helpful than to ignore a child in need of help. (Of course, there are ways of going about that without actually doing the work for the child.)

But mostly what I'm questioning is not why these particular people helped my kids, but why the general attitude of adults seems to be not allowing kids to mistakes, like there is something horribly wrong with making a mistake. None of these folks gave my kids the opportunity to help themselves first (nor me the opportunity to request they let them), and in these opportunities, I was right there next to my kids giving them support, not off on the other side of the store leaving them in need of assistance.

I think it lends towards kids being less responsible in general, and I ponder on what that might mean in terms of some of the problems present in society today.

So it makes me nervous too, but probably not in the same way you mean. ;)

April said...

We had similar (yet really different) experiences with our kids when they were really young and newly adopted (Internationally) with overly friendly adults. "Hi there little boy, what is your name, how old are you? Here let me help you) when we were trying our best to teach them not to talk to strangers and to come only to mama and daddy when they needed help. My oldest never knew what family was and never hesitated to talk to (hug, sit on the laps of) strangers.

It can be frustrating when YOU are trying to teach them and it seems like everyone else is encouraging them to do the direct opposite!