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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings, 

Fail Early, Fail Often

Elisabeth Stitt

Why would we want our child to fail?  Don't we want to set our child up for success?  Yes, we do want to set our children up for success--by giving them responsibility but training them for it.  Once we have done that, however, we want them to experience the natural consequence of failing to follow through.
 
Let's take lunches as an example.
First comes the training.
 So,  you have decided that every one in the family is going to "make" his own lunch.  You can "train" even a two year old by handing him or her the items to put in his lunch bag--and by giving him a choice:  Do you want peanut butter and jelly or tuna fish? For a three year old you can make up packets of lunch-sized foods like goldfish or crackers or hunks of cheese and put them at his level so he can grab and pack, with you checking for a balanced selection.  For a four and five year old you can supervise his filling of the lunch-sized packets.  Once a child is school age, you can give the added responsibility of making sure that at the end of packing, any item that needs to be replenished gets put on the shopping list.  If it is not on the list, it likely won't be bought for next week's packing.
 
As part of the training, be sure to talk about what is going to happen if he fails to make his lunch or forgets it at home (ie, you are not stepping in and rescuing him by making it for him and you are not bringing it to him at school).  Brainstorm solutions if he doesn't have his lunch.  Many schools--especially preschools--have extra food on hand in case a child forgets his lunch.  Allow that as an option, but be clear with your child that he will have to make that up to the school, perhaps by coming to the store with you on Saturday and buying extra supplies.  Perhaps he'll say that his friend will share his lunch.  Agree that that is a good solution one or two times, but if it happens too often it will hurt the friendship.  If his school sells food, perhaps he'll ask for money.  That is okay, too, as long as you have worked out how he is going to pay you back (that could be out of his allowance if he gets one or by doing extra chores).  He might even declare that he'll just go hungry.  Agree that that is absolutely a choice.
 
Let's say that now it is time to leave the house, and the child has not packed his lunch.  You are torn between being irritated because your child is whining and feeling guilty because you are the parent whose has "failed" to provide your child a lunch for school.  Now is not the time to feel guilty.  In fact, you can be secretly delighted; you have given your child a chance to experience a natural consequence--in other words, a consequence where the child's actions and choices have put him in this position.  Now is the chance to teach him that you have faith in his problem solving capabilities.  And that's what you tell him:  It is too late to make your lunch now, but we can talk about it in the car; I'm sure you can remember some of the ideas of how to get fed today.  Remember, worst comes to worst, your child skips a meal, which is the most natural consequence.
 
Since you have already brainstormed in the past, he probably will come up with which idea he wants pretty quickly.  Hurray.  You have now empowered him to recover gracefully from his "failure."  Think about all the learning that has gone on.  By training him to be independent, you give him the opportunity to take responsibility--both for getting it right and for making it right if he gets it wrong.  What a powerful message you are sending to your child about how capable he is--whether he forgets his lunch or not, he has demonstrated to you and to himself his ability to problem solve and take responsibility.  If he says he just skipped lunch, you may ask, How was that, as long as there is nothing in your tone which says, I told you so!
 
Here are some other areas where you can stop being the nag, start anticipating the consequences and brainstorming possible solutions:
       •Standing in the rain
       •Forgetting a coat
       •Forgetting to bring homework to school
       •Forgetting to lock up a bike
       •Leaving the milk out all day
By having the conversation about these events ahead of time, you are able to step out of the driver's seat and simply reiterate your faith that your child will figure it out. If the natural consequence is too serious (say, frost bitten toes), make it clear that you will step in but that you will apply a logical consequence.
 
Next time I will talk about circumstances that require a logical consequence.