Pretty much all my life I have thought of trial and error as bad. Or at least as something to avoid because to me it meant I hadn't really done my homework. In my thinking, trial and error implied a sort of failure. But I was wrong.
Thomas Edison is credited with saying, "I have not failed. I have found 10,000 things that do not work." Trial and error is not failure. Even though relying solely on trial and error means you will probably take longer to figure things out, it also means you OWN what you've learned and I am a huge proponent of owning my knowledge. I want this for my kids. And I want it for you. But when it comes to raising your kids, can you be considered responsible if you rely on trial and error?
As you probably know, my husband and I have a large family, 8 kids, and when we had our first we only knew what we remembered from our own childhoods. This is true for most new parents. One of my friends had a job as a nanny, many babysat, some a LOT, and these friends learned quite a bit along the way, but my husband and I called our firstborn our "experimental model." He got our first responses to everything. If I read a new parenting book, I tried out the advice on him. If I ran into a question of what to do or how to handle something, I would ask around, look up books in the library and try out whatever I was told. But the catch is, this is your CHILD, not a new way to cook mushrooms, or a fast way to write a report...and the results don't come in for a long time....sometimes YEARS!
Trial and error benefits us because we experience what works and what doesn't. We then can speak from that experience. Where trial and error falls down, especially on the child-rearing front, is when you make "mistake" after "mistake" and your child suffers. So as in all things in life there needs to be a balance between trial and error and seeking advice. My experience has been that I will try something that seems reasonable, maybe a 2nd thing if the first didn't work, but after that second attempt to correct or fix the problem or concern, I can be found searching everywhere for help. Seeking advice for our firstborn was probably the best parenting we could offer him. We learned from our moms, older friends with kids, other parents around us, books and magazines. I applied advice that was given to help us. Some of it was HARD...like how to lovingly but firmly discipline an out-of-control 4 year old. In that we were mentored with loving follow-up. But it gave us back our sanity. Where we relied on trial and error we often ended up not even realizing what practices we were implementing because they morphed over time. But our oldest is now a daddy with his own little guys and doing a great job. So I can say with some confidence that all those days of trying one thing, not liking the results and trying another thing, did actually work. And so did taking advice.
The very same principle is true for our kids and how they learn. Study after study shows people remember details best when they have some experience with the outcome. It's one reason most kids prefer labs to sitting in class. Being outside chasing bugs is far superior to being at a desk, memorizing the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. When my child has a bug they've caught and mounted, learning the Latin name becomes much more relevant. This is where trial and error shines...in the classroom of experience. Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime. When we have learned what works and what doesn't, we OWN that knowledge.
You wouldn't be reading this if you weren't interested in learning something new, so you can take what I say here and apply any parts that fit your life, or pass on to someone who might benefit from anything that sounds interesting or intriguing. But also realize when you try something and don't like the results, or feel it didn't work, you haven't FAILED...you've LEARNED. Do yourself a favor...don't use the word FAIL again. At least not in this context and especially in regard to your children. Something might not work, but you've still learned from the process.
What do you think about trial and error as it relates to parenting? What are your experiences? Join the conversation in the comments below and let's all learn from each other! Thanks!
Article by Ruth Grunstra
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Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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