My husband and I have the privilege of spending time with our 15-month old grandson, Nash. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about child-raising issues, so I am happy to receive wisdom from my daughter’s knowledge and the wealth of child development resources that are available to today’s parents.
Recently I was reading about a child’s fight-flight response and the neurological impact fear has on a developing brain (Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, Fay & Fay). In short, an adult who understands the importance of being calm when a child makes a manageable and safe mistake helps the child’s brain learn. An angry and fear-producing response from an adult sends the child’s brain into flight and survival mode where the important lessons of learning are blocked. Makes sense. Yet maintaining calm is easier said than done in all instances!
Recently, I also read an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Teaching Smart People How to Learn.” The author, Chris Argyris, contends that some of the most highly skilled employees in companies are the hardest people to teach because “behind their high aspirations is an equally high fear of failure…they become despondent in situations in which they don’t excel immediately.” He maintains that some employees who make mistakes actually feel ashamed.
So, how do these situations connect? In both childhood and adulthood, mistakes will happen – need to happen for the purpose of learning – and how a parent/caregiver or supervisor responds sets the environment for either learning or fear. Argyris argues that senior managers set the tone. When they acknowledge their own mistakes and coach others to critically examine their mistakes, they create an environment where true learning can take place.
A place for mistakes…can you imagine such a place?