Tuesday 4 June 2013

Freedom from Error

When I was young, I read a parenting article in Reader's Digest about being respectful of your child.  The author had been mortified when his or her father had repeated a comment they'd made at a car dealership (the child had advised the father not to buy a station wagon with wood panelling because wood rots).  The dealer laughed, the father laughed, the child grew up haunted by this event.

It was a story which haunted me, too.  I was very sensitive, prone to misunderstandings and my parents had a wide circle of friends and family.  Stories got told and retold and retold ... and retold.  And the humilation could last years.

As I've grown older and had more time to reflect, it occurs to me that perhaps the focus of this particular piece of advice was wrong.  After all, I'm part of the can't-be-wrong generation.  Not because we're so awesomely infallible, but rather because we somehow absorbed the message that being wrong was somehow literally worse than death.

Personally, I blame the self-esteem movement.  Studies have shown that when kids are praised for their accomplishments, they become afraid of failure.  Kids who are praised on effort are more willing to take risks.

Maybe the reason this particular bit of scarring child humour had the impact it did is because being wrong was considered so mortifying.  If a mistake is no big deal, everyone can have a good laugh.  If the child felt that he or she was being singled out for having made an unacceptable error, then that would indeed be shameful.

My parental policy is to respect my children's feelings and treat them as real, regardless of how I feel about the situation.  (No, those are not monsters under the bed, now Mommy wants some sleep!)  But I've also tried to teach them that mistakes are how we learn.  It's a hard one because deep down, I know I don't really believe it.

The mixed messages will probably require some Dr. Phil level counselling to resolve, but at least I'm making the effort.

My absolute home run success would be to look on my grown children who are unafraid to try and experience new things (autism withstanding), who are in touch with their feelings and aren't afraid to express themselves in socially acceptable ways.

Like all parents, I have a long time to go before I'll find out if my theories were good, crap or (most likely) somewhere in the middle.  Check back in 20 years to find out if I'm right.

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