Children have a knack at highlighting your weaknesses. They will do things, both in public and in private, that will make you question your choice at having them in the first place. They will press your buttons, find your vulnerabilities and use them at your weakest moment. They will stretch you and push you in ways you could not fathom.
If you do your job right, your children will embarrass you. Allow me to explain.
We learn by doing. Our brain favours action, behaviour and practice. We are hard wired to explore our environments, test our possibilities and look for change. Depending on the developmental age of your children, they will find ways to manage their curiosity and by doing so, they will expose themselves to danger, suffering and physical/emotional pain.
This is how we learn. Pain, failure, suffering, embarrassment, success, achievement — these are all functions that occur as a result of the behaviour. It is the feedback loop that allows the learner to recalibrate behaviour for a more successful outcome.
Some of these failures will not be to our liking. Some of theses failures will make us uncomfortable and embarrassed. This is understandable, but we need to be careful here because it is not our children’s job to make us look good, be compliant, and always keep us comfortable. We don’t want children to learn by taking care of our needs — that can be downright dangerous down the road when they hit adolescence and adulthood.
Exploring environments, testing possibilities and looking for change — these are signs you are evolving and growing. Growth doesn’t always look like progress. Activities such as connecting with a passion that might not be one that you like, exploring different social networks, trying out different faith practices or ideologies, all help develop happy brains. These are signs that you are building independence, resilience and confidence.
You want children, and adults for that matter, to take risks, to not always play it safe, and to stretch outside personal comfort zones.
Well what if the skill sets my child are exploring are dangerous, or involve high risk activities? What if my child is experimenting with Satan worship or horrors of horrors, contemplating joining Nickleback? What then?
Those high risk, or poor life choices don’t happen overnight. Even a 180 degree personality shift took years to evolve.
We hardly ever ask the inverse question — What happens to the child who does not want to take risks? What about the child who constantly chooses the path of least resistance? Or, what happens to the child who is constantly shielded from the practice by families that are all too eager to protect their child from failure?
A child with limited practice at risk taking, fear, failure and uncomfortable learning, is a dangerous child. This is a recipe for poor self regulation, poor resilience and poor social-emotional skills. We cannot reward children for behaviour that makes us feel safe and punish them for behaviour that makes us feel unsafe. And this is not just for parents because the same concerns exist in classrooms.
Children need practice at finding their way. Their life path, may be to challenge your version of “right” or “good”. Their life path may be to discover a passion which terrifies you but makes their heart sing.
Our role in supporting children is to help them make hard choices in order to live easy lives. Our role is to provide an abundance of practice at doing uncomfortable things. Rigour, self responsibility, and a strong capacity to problem solve should be a part of the end game.
The next time your children embarrass you, consider the fact, it might actually be an answer to your prayer.