Hoping to find a teachable moment about the success that can be found in failure, Joseph Albert Mastropiero seizes a moment on a bouncy slide.
I’ve been looking for a way to teach my toddler son what ‘failure’ really means. I’ve been trying to find a perfect example to teach him that while one may be defeated in a particular moment, one ‘failure’ won’t necessarily defeat you as a person.
I took my son to a children’s play center today. I didn’t go in planning on finding this teachable example, but the moment presented itself.
My kid is just like any other toddler, and he can be a bit of a daredevil. He loves to play and explore and understand new things. And, just like any toddler, sometimes when he isn’t quite grasping a concept, or he isn’t getting the results he expected, he’ll get frustrated and act out. It is moments like this where I typically try to calm him down by humming a few lines from any Beatles song, while rubbing his back. Other times I’ll repeat our toddler mantra: “it is alright, it is okay” in a soft, sing-song tone in his ear.
I sometimes fear that by simply soothing his frustrated cries, it may lead him to see getting frustrated as a way to get what he wants. It is a fear many parents have – of accidentally catering more than you should and making our children into little dictators that can accomplish goals with screams and stomps. *Disclaimer: regardless of whether or not they know it, all children are little dictators. It is the children who understand this power you need to really be aware of!*
The second I unlatched my son from his stroller, he was off like a nuclear-powered, waist high Godzilla. We kicked balls many times his size, we scooted around on kinetic bikes, and we danced (despite how silly I look dancing with him, he didn’t seem to mind). Then we came across the ultimate obstacle: ten vertical feet of bounce house slide that beckoned my son like the Sirens from Greek mythology! The other kids were showing they had the strength to climb it, and not one to be outdone by kids more than double his age, my son decided he would climb it, too.
It was like The Little Engine That Could, only if written by Franz Kafka. He would climb and pull and climb and slide back down to the bottom. He ran at it with reckless abandon only to flop face first into this inflatable arch nemesis. He then sat and stared at it a while, sizing it up. He tried holding tightly to the middle support to pull himself upward, but his arms couldn’t reach all the way around it, and he tumbled down again. It was at this point he started looking back to me, with an arm in the air beckoning me forward.
I wanted to step in as I always want to. Every parent wants to see their child succeed, it is in the parenting genetic code. This time I stopped myself, however, because I realized I found the moment to teach my son what to do in the face of failure.
I tried a new tactic, and said to him: “don’t worry, kiddo. You’ll get up there! Probably not today, but you can be happy with how far you got today! The important thing is you tried, right?”
I’m always surprised by how much children can understand when you talk to them directly. After I told him that, his mood brightened, and he turned back toward the slide with renewed vigor. He kept at it for a long time, and while he did not make it all the way up, he got pretty far for such a small boy. He was happy with the results he had, and I was very proud of him.
I can’t wait to see the look on my son’s face the day he does make it all the way up the slide, because it will be all on his terms, at his pace, and with the knowledge and experience of failing to help him truly understand his victory.