Everyone learns from making mistakes, right?
When A was a newborn and Mr. Musings and I were two extremely sleep deprived, first-time parents, we made so many mistakes! Like when we didn’t wait long enough before changing her dirty diaper, only to end up with baby poop everywhere. She wasn’t done! Or when she was cradled in my arms and I didn’t judge how much space there was between her head and the door frame. And I bumped her head. (Oops!) Or when I had to keep folding and re-folding the swaddle blanket so she couldn’t kick her little legs out. (Thank goodness for Velcro swaddle blankets!)
Making mistakes is part of life. And learning from our mistakes helps us grow as individuals.
So, why is it so very hard for me, as a parent, to simply let mistakes happen?
In my world, I crave order. I like to be organized, to make lists, to have a plan of action. I’m not impulsive by nature. New things, big crowds, social activities cause me anxiety. I like to be in-control. I tend to be a back-seat driver (sorry, Mr. Musings)! I say, “be careful” a thousand times a day. I’m not very good at letting mistakes happen.
Children learn through play.
Children learn through their experiences and interactions with the world in which they live. They learn through doing, through social interactions, and by making mistakes. (I actually have a degree in this stuff!)
Often, while playing with A, I have the urge to do something for her. The other day, she was trying to fit a cow shaped puzzle piece into the space for the sheep shaped puzzle piece. And I had to really resist the impulse to correct her, move her hand to the cow shaped space, and show her how to do the puzzle myself. I don’t like to see her frustrated. But even if she starts to cry, I know it will be better to step back, and let her make a mistake she can learn from. Instead of doing it for her, I can say, “This puzzle is tricky but you can do it. Try moving the cow somewhere else.” Encourage her rather than correct her.
Along those same lines, there’s my issue of compulsively saying “be careful!” Climbing the ladder of the slide or running in the crowded library…I always worry that A will get hurt. But, don’t we also learn from natural consequences? Not holding on while climbing the ladder could make you fall. Running in the library could cause you to run into another person or trip on a toy. By making the mistake, and suffering the consequence, we learn. Saying things like,”we walk in the library” will give her much more clear information to absorb. Obviously, I’m not going to let A run into a street or anything extreme like that. My point is simply that, by providing A with a safe space to practice her independence and make mistakes, we could both learn something new.
The last thing I want is to become an over-protective, over-controlling, or over-critical parent!
Toddlers need both freedom and limits. They need to feel free to become an independent person, while also knowing that their parents are close by, to support, encourage, and guide them.
There are times when modeling may be more appropriate as a teaching method. And other times it might be more appropriate to step back and let A learn through exploration: through trying, and failing, and trying again.