We modern parents are so concentrated on seeing our children do things well. We hope for them to be good at school, on the soccer field, at music, or at whatever other activity they undertake. As people we too, of course, like to be good, capable, or at least competent at various things. “She’s a great skier,” “he’s a great musician,” “she’s a yogi.” Think of how often we describe people in terms of how capable they are not at their main jobs, but at their hobbies and personal endeavors. “She’s a great mom” likely figures as the epitome of this.
Strange to think, though, how beneficial it is for kids — and for all of us — to be terrible at things once in a while. When you’re not good at something, you have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. You can have fun trying it out. And you realize that even when you’re not good, you still are who you are. You have the same heart, the same brain, and the same outlook.
Witness my kids trying to ice skate, which we went and did as a family during our vacation last week. My kids have only ice skated a few times. They’ve always wanted to learn how to ice skate, but we have never had access to a rink nor really the time given all the other things they do. The girls did take some ice skating lessons over the February long weekend, but not enough to get very far along with their skating skills.
So, after waking to the sports center, renting skates, and figuring out how to lace them up, onto the ice we went. Each kid had his or her own way of tackling the challenge. Lachlan raced across the rink and slammed into the wall to stop himself. Beckett bent forward touching his hands to his knees as he did when learning how to ski. I tried to imitate what I remembered of my mother’s smooth skating style (she grew up in Sweden and skated to school in the winters), adding some wobbles and awkward halts to that image.
The most fun part of the adventure stemmed from the fact that each of us was a pretty crummy skater. Being bad at something and struggling to get better proved to be a great bonding experience!
By the end of our session, most of us were able to get down the ice without falling and had learned how to stop. Neither elegance nor grace were part of the picture, but effort and perseverance were.
I thought back to my nephew Seamus, who tackled ice skating during a family trip several Christmases ago. New to skating, Seamus, at first, kept falling down. Several hours later, most everyone had gone home but there was Seamus, circling and circling the rink. Seamus wasn’t going to stop until he felt he had the hang of it. The next day, Seamus begged to go back. With that kind of grit and determination, Seamus will overcome whatever hurdles life throws his way.
Allowing children to do new things, and do them badly, and to learn how to get better on their own is a great way to build their resilience. As our kids grow, they’ll be faced with countless baffling situations. Knowing that on their own they can figure out how to handle these will be a great gift.So as family, pick something soon that you can all learn together from scratch. Whether it be a board game, mini golf, roller blading, or ice skating, find a new activity and spend time together as a family just being awful at it. Then, try to learn how to get better step by step; and even more importantly, try to have fun. It doesn’t really matter what you do. What matters is the process of starting from scratch, believing in your ability as an individual and a family to figure it out, and enjoying the time together.
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