It’s an interesting glimpse into the future watching kids and parents interact at the local playground. The playground is meant to be a relatively safe environment for our future generations to explore space, build confidence, stumble, learn, to get back up, interact with others and have fun.
Unfortunately it’s become a landing pad for helicopter-parents.
The irony of the situation is our very intention to prevent them from failing is actually setting our children up for greater failure. In other words, too many of our kids are being stifled by their well-intentioned parents.
The key to development is not whether they will experience falls (they will), the question is how well prepared are they to get back up from a fall.
[For the sake of this article falling is used in the widest possible context. For example it could be a literal fall, not being selected for a certain team, losing, an injury, being dropped, etc.]
Learning from some of the mistakes parents might make at the playground might help us prepare our young athletes better.
Scenario 1: The Parent who Eliminates the Challenge
It might be the first time their child is trying to climb a ladder or perhaps walk across a wobbly bridge and the parents ‘help’ their child reach the destination. But here is the thing: it’s not about the destination.
It’s about journey.
It’s about the process.
It’s about figuring out how to do it.
It’s about the learning.
And next time it’ll be easier. And easier.
Until it’s no longer a challenge.
And while the child might have ‘accomplished’ the end result, their parent has robbed them of a vital learning opportunity.
Take Away Lesson: Every time you see the young athlete being challenged, replace the word ‘struggle’ with ‘learning opportunity’ and give them the space to grab a hold of that opportunity.
Scenario 2: The Parent who Prevents the Fall
Typically waiting at the bottom of the slide, this parent catches their child before they potentially fall over as their feet hit the ground. This scenario robs the child of vital feedback (feedback almost every other child has learned to adapt to) on how to prevent themselves from falling in the future. Unless the situation is dangerous, over balancing is part of growing up.
A better way to prevent this from happening might be to gradually increase the height the child starts sliding from.
Take Away Lesson: Allow your young athletes the opportunity to fall. The feedback is vital to learn from and they will grow to overcome future challenges.
Scenario 3: The Parent who Races to the Child after a Fall
Everyone would’ve seen the kid who takes a stumble, looks up to their parent for validation, and then reacts accordingly. Parents who react negatively (e.g. rush to console earlier than necessary) might find their child reacts worse to the situation.
Parents who react positively (i.e. provide guidance like ‘dust your hands’ or ‘keep running’) might find their child gets on with the activity without much fuss.
And parents who (pretend to) ignore the fall might be the best of all.They might be giving the child the gift of resilience and grit.
Take Away Lesson: Make your initial reaction to their fall a neutral or positive one and they will adopt a positive attitude to falling.
So let’s remember that our children will be challenged, they will stumble and they will fall but they will also learn from those experiences. And each experience will allow them to grow so they are better prepared for future challenges, stumbles and falls.
Grant Jenkins is a Physical Preparation Coach who works with Developmental and Elite athletes. Contact him via email, his website or Twitter (@Grant_Jenkins).