Tuesday, 3 April 2012
Should a child be allowed to learn from his mistakes?
Everyone learns from his or her mistakes, even adults. It's often called "learning the hard way". Usually the most effective lessons come from bitter experience.
Children learn this way too, but often a parent must intervene to make sure a child doesn't make serious mistakes through ignorance or lack of experience. For example, if your toddler reaches for the hot burner on the stove, you would not let him get burned to teach him a lesson.
There are two factors to be taken into consideration before this strategy should be used as a teaching method.
First, the child must be old enough and have sufficient intellectual ability to internalize the lesson after he learns it, and he must be able to store it in his memory bank to use in future situations of the same or a similar nature.
Second, the consequences of his actions must not harmful to his long-term physical, emotional or mental health.
Traditionally, a child seven years old is considered to have reached the age of reason. Allowing him to learn from his mistakes before that age is of questionable value. He doesn't have the experience or the maturity to make reasoned judgments and to apply them in similar situations at a later date.
Foe example, once I took my four-year-old shopping. Before we entered the store, I warned him to stay near me so he wouldn't get lost. After making a purchase, I looked around and he was nowhere in sight. I soon spotted him at the end of the aisle examining some brightly-coloured artificial flowers.
Thinking I'd teach him a lesson, I stayed out his line of line of vision for a short time. When he realized Mom had disappeared and he was all alone, he panicked. He let out a bloodcurdling scream and started run up and down nearby aisles until I caught up with him. "Aha! That was a good lesson," I thought.
Not so. The next shopping trip we took together was uneventful, but the following one saw a repeat performance of the previous incident. This time it was some model cars that attracted his attention.
The "learning from experience" must be started gradually and applied judiciously.
An eight-year-old student goes to school without her homework book. The first time her parent may drive to the school and deliver it to her so she won't get in trouble with the teacher, but she must not come to expect such service to continue.
The second time it happens, it's a good idea to let her experience the natural consequences of her carelessness. She'll be reprimanded, and may miss recess to complete the homework a second time. The chances are, she'll remember her book next time.
Where this strategy really comes into its own is during the teenage years. These young people are anxious to be independent, and in a few short years they will be out on their own. A parent's role changes from being the boss to being a mentor. You can still advise, but allowing a teen to experience the natural consequences of his actions is a worthwhile option.
If a high school student sleeps in and misses the bus, they must walk into class late and take the punishment: no emergency taxi service from Mom or Dad.
If he doesn't put his dirty clothes in the clothes hamper, they don't get washed. If she skips assigned chores, she forfeits her allowance. If he doesn't wear boots when it's snowing, he sits in cold, wet socks all day. If she doesn't keep her room tidy, visiting friends will witness the chaos and judge her to be a slob.
Allowing children to learn from their mistakes is a valuable strategy. It's really allowing them to get a glimpse of the real world before they actually leave the nest. It teaches them responsibility, self-reliance and independence.
As long as the child is mature enough to learn the appropriate lesson, and the consequences, if he makes a blunder, are not too damaging, the parent should relax, just sit back and watch. After all, it's the way he'll be learning most of his lessons for the rest of his life.