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If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

I found myself pondering the degree to which this old adage applies to children today, particularly the last three words. In the world in which we currently live, a more appropriate version might be: “If at first you don’t succeed, an adult will do it for you.” There is no doubt in my mind that children today do not do enough for themselves - nor is it required of them. Though not necessarily the intention, the degree to which we have increasingly required less of children has proven to be one of the most detrimental pitfalls of the child-rearing process. The result has been an overwhelming number of helpless children who have grown into helpless, dependent adults.

Consider the following:

  • ·Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections before becoming a U.S. president.

  • It took 1,000 attempts before Thomas Edison successfully invented the lightbulb prototype.

  • Author J.K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter text was rejected by twelve publishers.

  • A lifelong stutterer who remained speechless for years, actor James Earl Jones has garnered an unprecedented number of awards and is viewed by many as having the most iconic voice in Hollywood history.

These are but a few examples of individuals who, despite repeated obstacles, went on to experience notable success. It is logical to assume that their early lives significantly contributed to the development of their unwaivering perseverance. By contrast, there are unmitigated numbers of young people in the United States today struggling to make the leap into adulthood with little motivation to look ahead, set goals, and commit to a plan.

To assume that early child-rearing practices are not contributing factors to this current phenomenon is shortsighted. Recently, while watching a television documentary on the status of childcare in America, I was quite chagrined, but not necessarily surprised, to observe a mother putting socks and shoes on her child who looked to be around age 5. In local stores, I regularly see parents doing for their children that which the children should be doing for themselves (or at the very least, attempting to do for themselves). Recent observations include pulling a straw wrapper off a straw, lifting a child into a car seat vs. allowing the child to climb into the seat independently, fastening car seat straps, and carrying their child’s backpack to the car. All were basic tasks that the children in question were quite capable of doing on their own.

Our ‘hurry-up’ society is less than tolerant of the fact that children cannot do things as quickly as adults. If we are serious about improving the state of our nation for the next generation, we must take a hard look at our own parenting behaviors, starting with the early childhood years. By age three, children should be dressing themselves, putting away their own toys and clothes, helping make and pack their lunches, assisting with household chores, etc. School age children should complete their homework without parents hovering over them, pack their bookbags for the next school day, select appropriate clothes, make their own bed...; tasks for which many parents today have assumed responsibility (perhaps as a knee-jerk, 'hurry-up' mentality response). If allowing time for this all-important training requires family schedule adjustments, so be it. The payoff will be well worth it.

When adults do work that children can do for themselves, the timeline for achieving proficiency is impaired; impaired timelines can result in decreased interest and motivation - a concern regularly expressed by classroom teachers. Parents who teach their children to do for themselves early in life lay the foundation for personal responsibility to become the norm. Appropriately increasing the level and types of responsibilities during the middle and high school years conveys an increase in parental confidence which can significantly impact the maturation process.

Allowing youth of all ages to independently experience the struggles required to master age-appropriate tasks is one of the most effective ways to achieve sustainable results; struggles that may require one to try, try again. The good feelings that accompany having successfully done the work necessary to achieve proficiency are key to maintaining motivation - especially when if at first you don’t succeed.

© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, October 16, 2021




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