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Just Let Kids Figure It Out

We all want and imagine our kids to grow up to be wise and kind. And as adults while we are wiser than them, we are also usually the ones who stop them from becoming wiser. 

Children begin the process of learning to walk or riding a bicycle with a parent or an elder sibling supporting them as they help move them forward, and after a point, the person helping has to let go so the kid can figure it out on their own, otherwise they will never truly learn how to walk or ride that bike. 

There is a wise lesson in this standard process. Of course, your kid is always going to be a kid to you, but as they start growing older, we often forget that we need to let them be and figure things out themselves. We will always have the fear that children may go wrong somewhere and consequently hurt themselves if we don’t interfere, but we need to acknowledge that if we don’t let go we are curbing their learning process.

The Dilemma of Teaching

Parents and teachers are constantly in a dilemma when it comes to helping their students and children. Often they may face the same dilemma when helping colleagues in the workplace. You can easily help someone achieve a certain level of success by doing the work for them. For children, this can take the form of giving them hints to solve a problem. We can either allow them to fail and provide support or do it for them and make the situation much easier for both of us. 

The take here is that parents need to let their children fail and fall. Teachers often see this habit in parents, which is referred to as ‘high responsiveness and low demandingness’. These parents are extremely responsive to the perceived needs and issues of their children and don’t give them a chance to solve their own problems. These are the parents that rush to school at the ring of a phone call to deliver the not-so-essentials like forgotten lunches, assignments, uniforms, and demand better grades in the final semester reports or threaten withdrawal from school. 

A study found that over-parenting has a lasting impact on children, which also affects their learning process. When we are over-helping our children or students, we aren’t letting them learn what the problem is actually about and how it can be solved; instead, we’re making them lean on our help without attempting to figure it out themselves, a habit that may very well carry on into adulthood. 

The Gift of Failure

Jessica Lahey, in her new book The Gift of Failure, has done critical research on why letting students figure it out for themselves is not only better for them in the moment, but also for their future, and their understanding of what learning looks like.  

Letting children figure things out on their own is one of the most empowering steps to give them control of their lives and learning path. The focus can be on failing instead of succeeding. Failure is motivating. It is the end of something but can be a foundation for a new beginning. It is all about what happens during the attempt that leads to failure and how that can be corrected to succeed. It means that there’s a chance to get back and give it a better shot next time. 

When you teach your children that there is power in failing and that success can come after it, they learn not to be afraid of failure anymore. They get on the bicycle to ride alone, take a walk unaccompanied, get on a skateboard, or solve a complex math problem on their own. They realize that failure is not actually the end and that failure is not such a bad experience - after all, they still got to learn. 

However, this cannot be taught through a short conversation; they’ll actually have to be left on their own to help them understand what comes with it. They will fail and fall and get upset with you, but eventually understand and figure out how not to fall. Learning is contagious. As soon as the ‘wiser’ children’s friends see them figuring out things for themselves, they’ll hop on the boat and sail it too. 

We need to let them go through the entire process and support them along the way only as much as we should, instead of as much as we can, even when failing is involved, it incites more learning than having it all figured it out already.

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