Can you teach children to fly? Looks like you can!
Charlie Wardle once wrote, “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because its trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.” As human beings, we also can fly when a branch breaks. We can overcome our fears, and rise above our failures. We can learn how to fall well, and stand up knowing we can fly high, leaving a breaking branch. It is the only ability you can fall back on when faced with difficulties in life. However, unfortunately, we do not help our children develop that ability as parents. Let us explore how we fail our children by preventing them from becoming the kind of people who know to fly when a branch breaks underneath them. Why do we fail to teach them resilience?
The Wrong Cause
Why do we fail in teaching children to fly?
When we set an outcome for our children as parents, we also often specify how to achieve that outcome. It makes us force our children to perform in ways we have decided they must. Let me use a simple example to explain this. Say you want to teach your child how to bake a cake. In an ideal world, you give them all the ingredients, spend some time discussing the process of baking with them and let them explore the magic of baking. They may make mistakes while they are at it. Yet, you do not entangle yourself in the process because you know that is how they learn. You and I know it usually does not always happen this way. As a parent, you may have some fixed notions about how to bake a cake. You start supervising the whole process, instructing and handholding your child at every point. As a result of your consistent interventions, your child may bake a tasty cake. However, they will not learn how to bake a cake, make all the mistakes they can make while doing it, and learn from them. In other words, they may not know how to fly on their own when the branch breaks beneath their feet.
A similar pattern repeats when it comes to their education. We want our children to achieve specific outcomes. What is our current indicator of successful learning? Marks! At the entry point to colleges or workplaces, we decide on student success based on the 'marks' an individual managed to score on tests. When we set a parameter like this for success, we unconsciously work towards it. Even children work towards achieving the highest possible marks, following our lead. Our goal in this context is not to prepare them to develop the necessary skills to face life. Our goal is to prepare them to be great employees. We are not worried about how that employee will be happy or how that employee will go through life successfully. Do we realize, when we are doing this, we are preparing our children not to be 'too smart'? We are only preparing them to be obedient.
The Bad Effect
What happens when children grow up not learning to fly?
As we explore this question, let me narrate a recent experience. I want to tell you what happened to one of my neighbors, a peaceful-looking thirty-year-old. I used to notice her walking her dog once in a while. Other than that, I never saw her talking to anyone. I never saw anyone coming to her house. After her breakdown, I came to know that she worked for some technology company and she was a UX designer,
A few weeks back, I heard someone screaming and throwing things at a car parked on the street. When I went out to check, I saw everyone who lived there standing outside and watching this thirty-year-old woman cursing and throwing stones at her car. I asked my neighbors what was happening, and they had no clue. I asked them if no one lived with her, who could help her calm down. They told me she lived alone.
For some time, there was a boy who was living with her. Everyone thought he was her husband. Later everyone realized he was her boyfriend, and they were living together. Three months ago, as things were not working out, he left. I thought this sudden episode of violent outbursts might be because of the breakup. Perhaps, she was nurturing a branch that would support her. It broke, and she did not know how to fly when it did.
When we realized that this violent outburst might lead her to cause self harm, we decided to take charge and calm her down. As I hugged her to calm her down, I realized this violent episode was a plea for help. We took her to a hospital and got in touch with her boyfriend. Her parents were not willing to come and attend to this child immediately. The boyfriend had to contact the father several times to help him understand the gravity of the situation when he finally agreed to come. Her boyfriend arrived before her father did, and I explored her back story with him.
Here is what I understood about the situation from our conversation. This woman was a brilliant child growing up. However, she could never trust anyone, and as a result, she never had any friends. There were trust issues between her and her boyfriend, and they had to part ways. He still loved her and wanted to take care of her. However, he was not sure if she would ever allow him to.
Her parents had divorced when she was a child. It was a messy divorce, and they forced her to take sides. After the divorce, both the parents married separately and set up homes of their own. They always wanted to control her and keep her with them. Their control mechanism drove them to beat her up and lock her up at every opportunity. She grew up to be someone who could not trust people.
When she was sixteen, she fell in love with a boy. He became someone who supported her all the way. Unfortunately, he died in a freak accident. It broke her down. Instead of providing her therapy or emotional support, the family put her on psychotic drugs.
When I returned from the hospital, I went into her house with her boyfriend. The house was a mess. Yet, through that mayhem, I could see pockets of brilliance. She had a collection of great books. She had her painting material. She came across as a brilliant child who did not know how to fly when the branch broke.
You may shrug this off as an extreme example. It will never happen to my child, you may think. The fact is, we never know. For every reported mental health issue, there are at least ten of us who silently suffer.
The Big Solution
How do we teach them to fly and not fail?
We force our children to behave in set ways, thinking that we are preparing them for the future, especially for financial stability. It is the biggest lie we have all come to believe, that 'financial' stability will make us happy. It is not the amount of money in our life that matters but our relationship to money. To some extent, we need money to live; beyond that, we need money only to feed our identity. As parents and teachers, what is the identity we are helping our children build for themselves?
When we equate success with financial achievement, we get trapped in our vicious constructs of victory. These lies we tell ourselves have a profound negative impact on how we experience life. We become greedy and cautious with how we approach work and can never reach a state of flow with our productivity. The relationship we have with money impacts every aspect of our life. When we create a construct like 'money solves problems,' we stay stuck in internal conversations like 'I am not enough.' ‘Money solves problems’ is a lie and a bottomless hole that feeds the capitalistic economy.
We live in a world of chaos, and disruption is the norm. When we teach children to depend on their internal ability to think and make decisions when faced with challenges and not on anything external, like money, insurance, etc., we teach them to fly.
About the Author
Rosama Francis started her career as a teacher and soon found herself motivated to help students find their potential. She went on to head schools soon after and found all her work centered around finding people's strengths. It was an intuitive understanding that everyone has their unique potential and only by focusing on that, will that individual find success. She soon gravitated towards her career as a coach and still wake up to a life that she loves. Rosama Francis is the co-founder of Innerkern and you can read more about her work here.