PARENTAL CONTROL: HOW DO WE ALLOW OUR KIDS TO MAKE MISTAKES WITHOUT LOSING OUR COOL?

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My family loves to argue. They argue about why someone went downstairs instead of upstairs, or why someone left the milk on the counter as opposed to the table, or even how someone could forget the keys were in their hands the whole time - expending excessive energy clearing up miscommunications on trivial logistics. However, they all agree that I have control issues. I’ve always wanted to control the situations and people around me – my brother’s interaction with other children, my parents’ perception of me, my wife’s dishwasher loading procedures…

I can’t let this dishwasher issue go. I know many couples argue about this topic so often that an extra power rinse cycle couldn’t jet the stale smell from the words hanging in the air. However, my advice to couples everywhere would be to stop wasting your energy on the topic. The success of a dishwasher cycle is not just a matter of opinion, but science. Of course, each dishwasher unit performs differently, but once you know your unit, finding the proper dish, bowl and utensil configuration should be elementary. Unfortunately, my wife uses a more creative and artistic approach to loading, such that no 2 loading configurations are the same.

I owe my authority on the subject to my organizational skills. I have spent much of my life looking at the world as a grand Tetris game. I have been filling in slots, moving objects around, and advancing levels by rearranging my furniture, restacking my closet, packing bags for trips, and negotiating through traffic. And, I’ve used my mental joystick to restore order to more than just storage and driving. This grand skill of organization works for ideas as well – posing strange combinations of thoughts and self-reflective suggestions until a solid solution or philosophy forms itself in my head, like a snug puzzle of squares and rectangles that become one singular block of comfortably symmetrical and smooth notions. And that’s how I convince myself it is an absolute truth.

So, yes, my mind is programmed to engineer the perfect combination of Pyrex, Fiesta Ware and Corning Ware. Not only does this flaw/skill yield an efficient and clean kitchen, but it also delivers a jolt of adrenaline to know that everything is in its’ place. I am least helpless at that moment. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to let go of some of these control issues, but they still pop up. After all, it feels so good to control!

Now, if we decide to throw children into the picture, my control issues become more significant of a problem. Especially since I believe that children learn best when they are making mistakes. I adopted this belief while working at Cognitive Arts – an interactive training company started by a professor at Northwestern University. We designed the training around the concept that the brain is more open to receiving information when a mistake is made. And if children are working in a safe environment, they will explore more, learn more, and learn faster. But, I see many parents anxious to keep their kids safe, protecting them from the evil dangers of mistakes, and even shaming them before they get near a mistake. This approach tends to make the children not want to even try in the first place.

I understand that instinct, and I worry that I would fall in that trap very easily with my control issue. And what’s worse, this issue is not my only issue that could easily traumatize my children. It only takes one incident, one slip-up, and that tiny moment in my child’s entire span of life becomes the calling card as the kid heads into adulthood, either blaming me directly for damaging them and sending them to therapy, or worse, subconsciously changing the way they think that might prevent them from future success.

I’m not sure it’s worth all the effort to create a new life when it seems so easy to mess them up. How does it work in real life? How do you control, I mean protect your children while letting them explore? Let me know.