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Let her fall

Our daughter, Karolina, was born about nine months ago.

She is perfect.

Thankfully, my wife and I are compatible at parenting. Together, we can overcome the usual social pressures and parenting stereotypes that revolve around us. The mythical ‘your personal life is over’ and ‘you will never sleep again’ hasn’t smashed our dreams. Better yet, our aspirations are now brighter and more vivid.

We are still very different people, and we’re not trying to change each other. Though, we try to change ourselves to accept and respect the other. Like this, we achieve the fulfilling growth that fuels happiness in our relationship.

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.
— William Butler Yeats

Although we’re conquering struggles on a regular basis, I couldn’t be happier. We learned to appreciate the opportunities to grow together. We’re learning together, about each other and ourselves.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
— Proverbs 22:6

I had to grow up to realize that these are skills rather than personality traits. In fact, as parents, we should be encouraged to teach these skills. In her book Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky talks about seven essential life skills every child needs to be successful in life. To be able to focus, persist and form relationships.

When we let our girl fall, she trains most of the essential skills Ellen mentions in her book. These are the thoughts I’ve observed in my daughter’s expression when she’s doing something challenging:

  • Focus and Self Control — ‘I have to be patient and approach this carefully.’

  • Making Connections — ‘When I dangle from the table, I might fall and hit my bum. That might hurt.’

  • Critical Thinking — ‘When I’m approaching a new table I have to evaluate if the benefit is worth possible pain on my bum.‘

  • Taking on challenges — ‘I can do this because even if I fall, I’ve fallen before and it’s nothing to worry about.’

  • Self-Directed and Engaged Learning — ‘Hmm, my bum hurts. I will try not to fall next time.’

On the contrary, when we keep saving our children from a possible danger creeping around every corner, we keep our children away from the valuable early opportunities to learn. These events shape how we approach learning and difficult situations throughout the whole life.

Dr. Carrie Masia Warner, associate professor of child psychiatry at NYU, argues that keeping your child happy all the time is unrealistic. As long as we give them enough attention and affection most of the time, it’s helpful the let the baby fall and cry a little bit.

Jessica Lahey goes further in her book Gift of Failure:

Kids who were raised by controlling or directive parents could not contemplate tasks on their own, but the kids who were being raised by autonomy-supportive parents stuck with tasks, even when they got frustrated. Kids who can redirect and stay engaged in tasks, even when they find those tasks difficult become less and less dependent on guidance in order to focus, study, organize, and otherwise run their own lives.

Certainly, it’s our responsibility to judge the situation and filter the learning opportunities. I don’t let my daughter hurt herself nor do I leave her unattended. Yet, when I see her trying something that is potentially harmful, I let her know that she can hurt herself. If she falls and cries, I observe and let her figure it out. And she does.

The baby is going to hit her head, eat stuff off the ground and crawl around a cold floor. Let her find her way. The lesson will stay with her throughout her entire life.

Failure is nothing to fear

She used to dangle around the coffee table and learn to stand on her feet. She fell twice on her bum and cried. We were there to support her, but not to fix it or make it easier.

When she fell the third time, she gazed my way and went on with her baby business. Now, she knows that she can fall and that it’s nothing to fear.

She knows that failure is nothing to fear.