Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (September 14, 2017)
"Just last week, I was on holiday with my husband and 14-month son and we were staying at a hotel. As soon as my curious son entered the room, he started exploring and looking to see all the new and wonderful things he could discover. He started looking out the window to look at boats, looking at the books on the coffee table and then finding all the knobs he could turn and buttons he could press. And then he started exploring the bathroom area. The whole room is well carpeted but the bathroom was hard, marble floor with a small step up. So as my son was toddling along, his foot got caught in the little step and then he ended up falling on the marble floor. It sounds like a mother’s nightmare but my son fell forward with his arms extended out, he softened his fall and ended up being totally fine. He promptly proceeded to get back to his feet and continued toddling along.
What I then realized was that I was worried about him falling and hurting himself but I didn’t have to worry because he knew how to fall well. He knew how to break his fall and also knew how to get back up again.
As parents, we are instinctively protective and many times, we want to avoid the fall. Of course we want to keep our children safe but ultimately, they will fall and what we need to do is not so much prevent the fall but to teach them how to fall. And this applies literally in physical falling to figuratively in ‘falling’ or ‘failing’ in different areas in our lives.
I once met a mother of an eleven year old daughter. She was sharing with me how stressed she is because she needs to sit next to her daughter every day to watch her do homework, correct her homework and also study for exams with her. I asked her why she had to do that and she said “she can’t do it without me. If she doesn’t do well this year, she can’t catch up next year.” And the thing is, I’ve met parents of kindergarteners who have said the same thing. They are protecting them from a fall. But my fear is that when they reach a stage in life when they are on their own and they end up falling, they won’t know what to do, how to react and how to stand up again. So I think we should let our kids fall when they’re young and when it hurts less, costs less and is easier to get up.
But how we teach children to fall well?
I think the first step is just being willing and able to let them fall. Maybe it means them failing a school exam or getting a bad grade for a speech festival, or giving them the job of doing a household chore and not having it done well. Whatever it may be, giving them the opportunity to ‘fall’ is already a learning experience.
The second step is how we respond to the fall. Do we have an emotional meltdown and think that our child’s future is over or do we have the ability to put things into perspective and see how it can be made into a teachable moment? Once a child has fallen once, it’s usually a memorable experience that they don’t want to repeat.
The third is helping the child understand choice and consequence. What choices did he/she make or not make to generate that result? How can he/she do things differently next time? This helps a child develop critical thinking too and to recognize that every choice has an associated consequence.
How do we fall? Our actions speak louder than our words so when we fall or when we see others fall, do we have a growth mindset of learning and growing from the experience or are we downtrodden and defeated? How we react will show our children how they should react too.
So, how will you let your child fall and how will you prepare him or her to fall well? "