Experience in success
All children sometimes fail and make mistakes, but they learn through their mistakes if their experiences are mostly on the side of success. If the little child fails more than he succeeds, he becomes discouraged and less ready and able to learn. Parents should help their little children to learn desirable behavior through successful experiences. There are several points a parent should remember:
1. Do not judge a little child by adult standards.
A three-year-old may be able to carry the carton of butter from the refrigerator to the table, but he may let the butter slip to the floor if he is expected to carry it on a plate. A four-year-old can dust and help with the dishes, but he cannot be expected to do a real job. He can put the mats and silverware on the table, but his setting of the table is likely to be crooked. A little child responds to mother’s praise when he tries to help, and this should be given generously for the attempt. Criticism and insistence that things be just right, or irritability at the child’s clumsy attempts, will quickly destroy the child’s interest and eagerness to help.
When a pre-school child tries to help, it is best not to insist that he finish the job. His attention span is short. Let him stop when his interest flags, but welcome him back when he wants to help later. As he gets older he will learn to carry through.
In the same way, if the pre-school child starts to make something and does not finish it, offer help if it seems too difficult for him. A quiet suggestion, “You could put a block here, and your building will stand better,” may help him on to the next step. If his interest flags, put aside the things he was making, for some other time. He may come back to it again. As far as possible, steer his interest and activity toward those things he can do and through which he can experience success. When a child’s ideas are too big for his ability, first listen to them seriously and without making fun of them; then offer an alternative in such a way that there is no ridicule for his original idea or suggestion.
2. Make success easy at first.
No child will try to do things for himself if he constantly finds them too difficult. A little thought on the part of parents can make many learning situations easier. Plan an easy and convenient place for putting away toys. Have steps up to the washbasin and a low rack for towels. See that the youngster’s clothes have as many self-help features as possible. Buy overshoes that zip up the sides or have wide top openings, so that the child does not have to struggle through the winter with boots he cannot get on. Have low bars and hooks in the closet for his clothes, and drawers he can easily open and shut. Provide small-sized spoons and forks with chubby handles that small hands can hold. Many early tantrums result from the child’s feeling frustrated and baffled when first trying to do things for himself. Give him every opportunity to succeed at those things he should learn to do.
3. Praise successes and usually overlook failures.
This is a very important point. Parents need to build a young child’s confidence in himself, in his ability to do things. This is different from praising a child for being a good boy or a smart boy and so giving him an exaggerated opinion of himself. When parents praise a child they should praise him for what he has done: “You did that well”; “That was a good way to put on your shoes”; “You did a nice job of putting away your toys.” If a child fails in an experience he should not be scolded and blamed, but he should be made to feel that he will succeed when he is a bit bigger.
4.Gradually increase opportunities for a child to do things for himself.
Parents should help the little child advance from doing simple things to doing more difficult ones with success at each stage whenever possible. For example, the child might begin to help mother by merely putting the spoons on the table, and later the napkins as well. In a little while he could be encouraged to put all the silverware on the table if mother lays it out for him. A child can first be shown how to put his puppy’s food in the bowl, later he can manage the water as well, and when he is a school child he may be able to take the full responsibility for feeding the dog, with only occasional reminders from mother. At first Mary can choose which of two dresses she would like to wear, later she will be able to choose from all the dresses in her closet, and still later she will be able to pick out ribbons and socks to match as well. When a child is three or four he may be able to go to the neighbor’s by himself, later he will be able to go to a friend’s across the street, and still later he can go several blocks to school or to the store for mother.
The secure and happy child who has normal self-confidence will quickly learn responsible behavior if he is given encouragement and a chance to know the satisfaction that comes from success. Resentment, fears, unhappiness, and overanxiety can keep little children from becoming independent and responsible, and from learning the kind of behavior his parents want him to have. (Continue below to page 4)