The fun of failure

Anya is addicted to Reading Rainbow. It’s up there with candy in terms of bribe power — it is that good. But I am unsettled by her reaction to one of the themes: Learning. She seems genuinely puzzled by the episodes that focus on someone learning to do new things. I know she’s curious; “But why?” is her favorite question. But she actively resists learning new things unless she pursues it and can stop whenever she wants.

I think I understand what her issue is: She is afraid to fail. But why? Other than the speech therapy (which we stopped just as soon as she started reacting adversely to it), she has never been pressured to grasp a new concept. It’s more like an innate response. One I want to nip in the bud as soon as possible. Learning is one of life’s greatest joys for me, and I just hate to see her so averse to it so young.

I was afraid to fail for many years, but that came later — after people had made a big deal out of my intelligence. I was afraid a failure would prove them wrong, and make me not special anymore. It was only when I was much older, trying things in the privacy of my own home, that I realized failing and then succeeding is way more fun than only doing things you know you can do well. I don’t want her to wait that long.

And I certainly don’t want her to set out at the age of 4 with the attitude that learning sucks.

So I guess I have my newest project cut out for me.

I’ve been trying to let her see me fail. I know part of my issue as a kid was that it seemed like my parents knew everything, and did everything right all the time. So I thought she might feel better seeing that even Mommy screws up sometimes. (Daddy isn’t as willing to admit to mistakes. ;) But aside from mistakes of an emotional nature (I always apologize to her when I lose my temper, for example, and admit when I have reacted badly to something — something she seems to deeply appreciate), seeing me mess up or even admit to being unsure of myself tends to freak her out. No matter how inconsequential the matter is, or if it even affects her.

For instance, the other day I mumbled under my breath about a concealer I bought based on some reviews I’d read. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, and I said something to that effect. (I think my words were “Well, I don’t think this is the makeup for me.”) She asked me what I meant, and I told her — and she looked like she was going to cry. Because I bought the wrong makeup!

When she was a baby, she got herself all worked up over every little skill she tried to master. At four months, she would throw temper tantrums while trying to roll over. Her face would turn beet red and she would shriek. I thought at first that she was in pain, but she was just frustrated. So this is definitely a personality trait at work here. And truth be told, it probably comes from me; I am the perfectionist in the family. (Poor kid. Of all the things I could have passed on!)

What helps me push through my perfectionist angst is focusing on the fun I have doing the activity. For instance, I’m finally returning to drawing, after deciding at the age of 12 that I sucked at it. Having kids means I have a “legitimate” reason to have art supplies, and I am enjoying the heck out of making things. Are they as good as some of my artist friends’ work? No. And likely never will be. But it’s fun for me, so I don’t care.

That’s the attitude I want her to have. I just don’t know how to get her there before the age of 40. :)

I think I need to start a new family tradition: The Fun of Failure. I want to sneak in learning in a way that makes it too fun to resist, and that rewards trying and failing as much as success. I’m not sure how I will pull it off yet, but I’ll figure something out.

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