Last night, in the beautiful silence of the big kids being in bed and Victor giving Kit a bath, I sat down to take a few minutes and just do something completely unproductive but fun. I had a sink full of dishes and laundry to fold and piles of stuff to go through. But I ignored them, and played Candy Crush instead.
I've been working on the same level for days, and was unsuccessful in completing it last night as well. And as I read the message on the screen a light bulb of sorts went off in my mind. About encouragement. Specifically in regard to our children.
You're probably scratching your head saying she's nuts. And that's probably true, but I'll explain.
The message on the screen when a level is not completed reads:
You failed! You did not bring down all the ingredients. (Or get rid of all the jelly. etc.)
Yes, the exclamation mark is really there!
So why does this make me think of how we encourage our kids?
Because it got me thinking about the recent "positive parenting" movement, and "helicopter parents" and all that jazz.
I'm a firm believer that kids should be treated like people, respected, and treated with consideration. And I feel that kids should be kids, not miniature adults.
There are times when kids should be protected, defended, and even sheltered from this big ugly world. But there are also times that they should be involved, informed, and prepared for it. It's hard sometimes to know the difference.
It's hard to know sometimes when to just hug a kid and say it's ok, I'll take care of this, instead of tough cookies, babe, try harder next time.
In this matter I think we parents could take a lesson from video games.
In principle, video games are a lot like life.
- First of all, you usually can't see what's coming up very far ahead, we just have a general idea, so that means we are going to have many surprises along the way.
- Second, they start out relatively easy, some even with tutorials (parents) that kind of teach you the basics. But with each successive level the difficulty increases. So do your skills though.
- Third, sometimes it takes multiple attempts to gain mastery in a certain area. This means that we are going to fail. Repeatedly.
It's this area that we might examine our approach to our own children's failed attempts and successes. Video games are blunt about failure. When you fail they simply say so, either in words, or by having your character fall of the screen like in Super Mario Bros. If you get hit by a turtle shell as a little guy, you failed. If you touch one of those flower things that comes out of the pipes, you get shrunk or loose your fire power, failed again. You just have to keep going or try again.
Kids inherently understand this. They don't typically fall to pieces when the screen announces GAME OVER. They simply beg for more time because they are just sure that this time they are going to get it!
Yet when our kids fail in real life, often times we rush in to save them, taking over so they don't have to feel the sting of failure. In essence we are grabbing the controls out of their hands and telling them, you'll never be able to do this on your own. But instead of empowering them, or even consoling them, we have made them feel like an even bigger failure. And instead of spurring them to keep at it, eventually they just stop trying all together.
Sometimes we do this just to save time and energy, which is understandable, and sometimes necessary. But we should make sure that our kids have ample time to tackle their challenges whenever possible. Even if it means that it might not be done as well as we would prefer it. (Accepting this is easier said than done as this is a big challenge area for me.)
When this happens, we can remember that in a video game, any given level has an optimal number of points and bonuses. Yet the level can can be successfully completed with out acquiring all of them. Maybe you don't get quite as high a score that time, but you did succeed.
And we can learn about encouragement as well. Why do you think video games have coins to collect or points to accumulate. So that we keep trying! They are little rewards on the way to a bigger success. Motivators. At home these could be as simple as hugs or more elaborate like tokens to earn extra privileges. Anything that helps keep your kids headed toward the ultimate goal.
And in video games, when a level is completed, there isn't usually a big hoopla. The character usually just jumps up and down or does a flip. If they complete a series of levels or the entire game then there may be an award ceremony of some kind with a few fireworks. And again, remember, you don't have to collect every coin to win the game.
So we should reward our kids. Most definitely. But for the most part, our genuine "Woo-Hoo!", and a high five makes them feel great. And perhaps a set reward they earn for things like chores or school work. And for the big stuff like passing a big test that they studied really hard for, or meeting specific behavior goals for the term, or learning to tie their shoes, then go ahead and break out the ice cream sundaes, or make a special trip to the movies. Everybody appreciates a reward for their hard work.
And hugs. Lots and lots of hugs!
Because love is the ultimate power-up.