Failure and defeat will only stimulate special efforts when there remains the hope of eventual success.
The latest in my endeavors to look at ways to encourage children is one I get. No one wants to do Sisyphean acts, and as an academic I have to admit I think I do them regularly. Sometimes when I look around our house at all the small, sharp-edged toys littering the floor that I will inevitably step on and then pick up, I think I do them regularly at home, too.
But back to encouraging our kids and this piece of advice, we only need to look at the work of Lev Vygotsky and his zone of proximal development. Here is Vygotsky's key quote on it:
the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.In less philosophical terms, Vygotsky believes that the best learning takes place when learners are pushed just beyond their current abilities, but not so far that they cannot attain the goal. Once a child is pushed beyond her abilities, an educator, parent, whomever should provide just enough guidance so the learner can complete the task. So the work is challenging, but doable.
Essentially, what I think Schafer is advocating with her eighth suggestion is to make sure when our kids do fail (which is different than making a mistake) or are defeated, that we make sure there is a hope of eventual success. That hope will result in additional, or as Schafer calls them "special" efforts that inspire kids to succeed. Ensuring success is far more attainable when we consider Vygotsky's zone and his suggestion that children be pushed into it, not beyond it. It means that as parents, we need to provide the support so they can accomplish the goal. It also means that we shouldn't push children into situations in which they cannot ultimately succeed. We shouldn't have unrealistic expectations and transfer them onto our children, especially expectations born out of parental pride.
So how do I do this with my boys? First, I have an confession. I am easily frustrated. Sometimes that even means I quit. I don't want my boys to have that same response that I do. I want them to see a challenge where I see frustration. I think it will ultimately make them more successful in life. So I commend effort. More specifically, though, when one of my boys needs or wants help, I try to do as little as possible while ensuring that they are capable of succeeding, eventually, if they try. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I just do it myself when the situation calls for it. It isn't worth me being thirty minutes late for something or watching a complete tantrum, including a scream like a tornado siren because my child can't put on shoes with defective tongues by himself. Am I succeeding? I guess we won't know until they're grown. But I do see my boys work hard at things, occasionally failing, and working until they succeed.
What do you do to help your kids work through failure or defeat, redoubling efforts so they can succeed? Do you have any great stories of you or your kids overcoming failure through extra effort?