"When you read each of these sight words correctly to your teacher, maybe we can go to the donut store," I heard myself say to my seven-year-old.
Her eyes grew big, I thought with excitement at the motivation. It took mere seconds to realize they widened out of panic. The pressure was on; she had to remember what "c-o-u-l-d" spelled, and she could not.
"What have I done?!" I self-talked.
I’ve made this about perfection and I’m only rewarding perfection.
Why oh why would I do this to my daughter who hates failing? She places heaps of pressure onto herself and here I go throwing on more.
I told her to put the list down and I asked for her forgiveness, explaining what I had done wrong. "You don’t have to get this perfect. It’s okay to mess up; let’s go get donuts if we can practice words with a good attitude. I care much more about a good attitude than perfect sight-word reading."
I’m not making this up. Relief visibly spread across her face and she smiled. Without hesitation she continued practicing the words; when she messed up I corrected her and told her "It says ‘could’, but no big deal. I’m proud of you for trying that tricky word."
Mammas and daddies, hear me out. We want our children to practice self-care, play sports, self-advocate, pursue advanced orientation and mobility, develop literacy skills, pursue friendships and maybe even dating relationships, and so much more.
We want them to do all of this and if you’re like me, you want them to do it well. Talk about mounting pressure.
We must teach them all of these valuable life and academic skills, and we must teach them failing and falling are part of the process. It means they are trying something new and challenging.
Teach them how to eventually self-talk through "failing" by narrating the process healthily for them.
Instead of saying to your little goalie, "You let the ball through the net…Aw man! Oh well, next time…" You can say, "I’m proud of you for acting as the goalie. That’s a challenging position and you did it anyway!"
I’m afraid the aftermath of only rewarding perfection is a child who eventually stops pursuing a challenge. It’s not fun to fall, and so she stops running.
Let’s instead encourage (and maybe sometimes even reward) trying new things, working hard at a goal, and attempting something challenging…not because it resulted in perfection, but because it takes real guts to walk outside the comfort zone.
Are you with me?
This fall, let’s teach our children it’s okay to mess up. Let’s reward the effort and attitude instead of perfection.