Learning Doesn’t Happen Without Failure

Learning doesn’t happen without failure. Keeping our minds open through our experiences, new and old, allows us to learn through our experience. The other day I found myself at the crossroad of getting something done with constructive or destructive feedback. Mind you I am a firm believer that both types of feedback are needed – some habits need to be “constructed” and other habits need to be “destructed“.

I came home from work and found my four and 10 year old daughters and the babysitter sitting at my kitchen table doing their homework. Suddenly my four year old threw her papers and her pencil and yelled out that she wasn’t going to do her homework. She was visibly upset, arms folded tightly and a pouting face etched in stone. The babysitter tried her best to get her to do the homework and started showing her how easy it was. No response. The elder sister told her she was going to get in trouble if she didn’t do the homework. The four year old got out of her chair and ran upstairs yelling that she wasn’t going to do it and started crying.

The babysitter started explaining to me that this had happened a couple of times already and she was trying to “get” her to do her homework and the problem was she didn’t like the way her 8’s looked and she wrote and erased them a bunch of times.  I told her I’d handle it, but I wanted her to stay for a minute. 

I went upstairs and found my daughter very upset and scared that she was in trouble. So I did exactly what you’d expect me to do – I tickled her. I made a smile break through that stone face, only to return to a pout. We played for a minute or two and she kept letting a smile and laugh sneak through. 

Then I asked her about her homework and why she didn’t like that page (careful to avoid connecting her dislike of the one page to being that she doesn’t like all homework). She told me she doesn’t like the way she makes 8’s, that they do not look nice. So I asked her if she tried it a few times and she told me she tried it a bunch of times and they were all ugly. I told her okay. Then I threw her up in the air a couple of times and we laughed a bit more before we headed back downstairs. 

She went back to the kitchen table where my older daughter told her to do her homework. I jumped in and said forcefully “She does not make good 8’s and she better not put a bad 8 on her homework.” The babysitter and my older daughter were shocked. “But dad she has to do her homework right now.” 

No she doesn’t. I’m not letting her finish her homework until she is going to do it right. Concentrate on your homework.” I then grabbed a piece of paper and drew an 8 on it – two styles, one with a pair of stacked circles and the other the more traditional 8 where you never pick up your pencil. I whispered in her ear that I wanted her to trace mine a couple of times to practice, then draw whichever one she liked next to mine. I told her I thought she could make an 8 as good as mine or even better. This secret conversation made her smile. 

I left her alone, as to not look over her shoulder. A minute later I hear “My 8 is better than yours!” So I came back and looked at it and her 8 was very good. I yelled out “Wow! That’s a great 8!” She was all smiles and told me she wanted to finish her homework because she was going to do a good job.

For some reason there is a human reaction when one believes their authority is being questioned they puff their chest and engage in a battle of wills. The problem is the habit they are typically focused on squashing is related to their insecurities, not the true item at hand. Sometimes we need to destruct that behavior. In this instance, there wasn’t a habit to break, there was a habit to strengthen. My daughter is naturally very determined, and though blind determination can lead to unnecessary strife, this wasn’t what I was dealing with. I could have taken the approach of forcing her to comply. Instead I want to preserve that determination. I want her candle of high expectations of herself to stay lit. I want to fuel it. I want to see it thrive and take her mind to new heights. 

So I stand firm in saying “She better not put a bad 8 on her homework“. She’s capable of so much more. So it is with all of us. Go ahead. Make a difference. Help others unlock their potential.