Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. - Mahatma Gandhi. And yet in an effort to do the best for our children, we try and prevent them from making those mistakes. We schedule their school time, sleep time, food time and even play-time. Wanting them to be their best, we encourage guided play. Tennis classes, swimming lessons, football coaching and playdates are all a part of the life of a child today. This means that there is no room for free-play and pretend-play which allows children to explore their boundaries.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his earliest known photo, aged 7, c. 1876
Often termed “helicopter parenting”, it happens when a parent is always hovering around in order to pick up any spills the child might have or to carefully keep the child from straying even ever-so-slightly from a chosen path. Cosseted and pressured all at the same time, the child might feel guilty at not measuring up and resentful at the loss of choice, often leading to lifelong dependence. In a bid to create the perfect life, parents often forget that constant prompting could unknowingly lead even the most capable children to doubt their ability to do anything unless instructed. Raising an independent child then is a result of standing by and watching our children trying, failing and eventually getting it right (unless they are actively in harm's way). When parents stand over and nudge a child till the entire puzzle pieces fit or direct them to stack the blocks in just one particular way, it can curb initiative, imagination and curiosity. The child who piles up his cars is likely to learn about balance, space and size by attempting it repeatedly until he gets it exactly right.
Systematic research has increasingly demonstrated a series of clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about two and one half through ages six or seven, claims Psychology Today. But in a world where children as young as age 3 have music classes, acting classes and gym classes every activity is guided with little room to make their own mistakes and learn from them. When parents express disappointment at one activity or place a premium on certain activity vis-a-vis another activity, it can signal lack of validation to a child and they see it as failure and begin to fear it. If playing with a doll house instead of flash cards is viewed as less intelligent, it might repress their expression and creativity. They begin to curb their natural curiosity and can lose that very sense of adventure that makes life exciting. .
The great artist, Pablo Picasso has said “Go and do the things you can't. That is how you get to do them.” Set all children free from the fear of failure and enable them to cope with all that life throws at them.
Imagine if those who fought for India’s freedom worried about failure. Many of them were barely out of their teens and joined the fight under threat to their lives. They imagined a strong, independent India and worked for it. They proved that independence is not just desirable but also to be cherished at any cost. Had they been deterred by the fear of failure, battling against the then mighty British Empire, we might never have a free nation.
Let children play free, explore boundaries, discover themselves and learn independence without the fear of failure. As our country celebrates another year of Independence, it is time to recall the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore who wished for a country “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…”
Rabindranath Tagore in his boyhood days. Image credits- India today.