We are all works in progress. Each day, and each decision, is a step in a grander journey. Every experience we have is an opportunity to learn, but too often we are more focused on the outcome than the process. Trial and error is a process for growth. However, children tend to reflect solely on the outcome and assume it to be an absolute. Learning valuable life lessons from your experiences can be a challenge for people of all ages. So, it is no wonder that young people struggle to independently apply what seems to be a hugely abstract skill to their lives with ease.
As an educator, I ask guiding, open-ended questions to encourage children to develop their own opinions, strategies, and/or solutions so as not to influence them with my opinion and/or give them the answer. Our goal as educators is to develop thinkers. This same technique is equally appropriate when you, as a parent, encourage your child to self-evaluate their own experiences to improve future choices. Guidance is very different than telling a young person, flat out, what he/she should or should not do. This goes for everything from learning to play an instrument to making new friends. You have to bring your children’s attention to what the process might be able to teach them and how they feel along the way. Thoughtful conversations throughout the process are necessary. If you only stop and reflect after the fact, you are losing too many opportunities for learning and creating new experiences. For example, maybe your child hates participating in gym class because sports don’t come easily. However, maybe that experience is actually about learning to be out of his/her comfort zone and not solely about whether he/she can score in flag football. The teachable moment in this scenario may be the importance of finding fun and comfort in those things at which we don’t naturally excel. As parents, you have the help of teachers and educators to present the experiences that enable the learning, but keeping the lines of communication open with your child and fostering the conversation that may lead to further learning is critical.
- Reflect on the effort, not only the outcome. Children sometimes see their immediate world in negative absolutes. Aside from kindness, a key essential positive absolute that must be highlighted at home is the importance of effort, regardless of the challenge. For example, when your child comes home disappointed about not scoring as high on a test or project as they hoped, compliment the effort put into preparing and remind them that skill will pay off long after the one grade is forgotten.
- Make a meaningful connection. Meaningful connections are the most valuable catalysts for learning. Outside of relating their experiences with your own past experiences (which can also be effective in some situations) by defaulting to “When I was your age,” use the world around them and their own past experiences as examples of growth. For example, remind them of similar challenges they, or peers, have faced with friends, school, etc. to draw on ways they can handle the current situation.
- Thoughtfulness leads to growth. Be clear that life presents each of us with small, and sometimes big, choices and situations. Without a life of experiences to draw from, a child’s quick decision-making skills are often based on emotion rather than thoughtful and rational considerations. Encourage your child to reflect on each difficult choice or situation. For example, if your child is struggling to make a choice over an issue with friends, be sure to talk through the effects of their choices, on themselves and others. Encourage them to ask important questions, like “How does this affect others around me?” What a hugely necessary life skill!