A few months ago, Jim and I had to make a quick run to Sam’s Club. While we were gone, a goat (Zipporah) unexpectedly went into labor and Emery (age 12) had to deliver his first baby goat with his older siblings cheering him on (and Mom on speaker phone giving him directions).
Despite his fear, Emery was able to rise to the challenge. This got me thinking about how my children are able to handle whatever is thrown at them. When I thought about why that is, I realized that we’ve never made things intentionally easy for them or put them in situations where they can only succeed.
Instead, we’re constantly challenging the children. I think this is a better way to build a child’s self-esteem because it teaches them to be capable. Challenging them shows them how much they can do and what an asset they are to the family. This gives them a real sense of self worth that nobody can take away.
We regularly practice the following concepts with each child:
1. Push them past their comfort zones. Nobody knows your child better than you. What is easy for one of my children is very scary or a real stretch for another child. I tailor the tasks I give the children so that they aren’t always what they are comfortable with. For example, Brett is great at answering the phone and answering questions, but she hates taking the initiative and making phone calls. So I regularly ask her to schedule appointments or order the occasional pizza or contact a customer.
2. Set them up to possibly fail. It is extremely important for children to learn how to fail. They’re not perfect and once they are out of your home, they’re going to find situations in which they don’t excel. I’d much rather my children learn how to deal with failure in my home, where we can talk things out and help them to understand that failing is a part of life. Brett got a fortune cookie the other day that I liked. It said, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
I regularly ask the children to make a meal they’ve never made before. Quite often they get it exactly right and dinner or dessert is wonderful. But there have been times that it was a complete disaster. For example, years ago I asked Colter to make Amish friendship bread. When we ate it, we all started choking. After some investigating, we discovered that he had used the baking soda bin instead of the sugar bin. While he failed in that particular instance, he internalized a valuable lesson. Failing and losing a dessert he was looking forward to eating was a better learning tool than me lecturing him to always double check his ingredients.
3. Expect them to try (not succeed). With my children, I work hard to stress the fact that they will never get in trouble if they don’t succeed at something. They will get in trouble if they don’t try with an earnest effort. When they try and fail, we commiserate with the failure, but we praise them for putting in the effort. For example, Jim regularly asks Hewitt (8 years old) to help empty the Hulk of all the feed sacks. Hewitt isn’t capable of carrying 50 pound bags of feed the way Colter is, but Hewitt can drag them. Even if all Hewitt does is move one bag of feed while Colter moves ten, we expect him to do what he can do. Then we thank him for helping to get the job done.
I do have to point out that because I’m constantly challenging my children and pushing them to do new things, they aren’t always pleased with me. It’s a lot easier for them to stick to their comfort zone and do just the things that they’re good at. It does take extra parenting energy to challenge them. But parenting isn’t about doing what is easy for your children (or for you). It’s about what is going to make each of your individual children grow up to be the best person they can possibly be.
What about you? Do you challenge your children? I’d love to hear some examples!