Nearly since she could talk, my four-year-old daughter has been fiercely independent. “I do it!” were some of her first words. Now, she’s developed a competitive side. “It’s your fault!” she tells me or my husband when she trips down the stairs. At preschool, she’s started telling kids that her ideas are better than theirs. In an attempt to shift gears to a more constructive mindset, we’ve started sitting down at dinner with an evolving list of questions that help us evaluate our day, our mistakes, and our interactions with others:
- What mistake did you make today?
Every day, we try to think of a mistake that we made—no matter how silly—and talk about how we managed to deal with it. Sometimes my mistakes are ridiculous, like putting on pantyhose and finding a huge hole in them, and sometimes they’re big, but in either case, I try to laugh about them.
- What did you learn from somebody else?
The idea is that we don’t actually have all the knowledge in the world—a concept my daughter is certainly still wrestling with! Whether we learn about doing our taxes or about how to count to 20, all of us—grownups and kids—have room to grow and something we can learn from someone else every day.
- What are you proud of?
While discussing this topic, we try to move away from focusing on accomplishments and focus instead on what we did to get there. Maybe success isn’t painting the most perfect picture or giving the best presentation. Instead, it’s the hours and hours of patient, behind-the-scenes work.
- What funny thing happened today?
No matter how many times we’ve fallen down—literally or not—we can try to find the humorous side of the situation. My daughter, like many children, seems to have a natural gift for this. In the middle of dessert one evening, for example, she put on her dinosaur costume and twirled around, asking, “Do you have a banana on your head?”
- What are we going to do tomorrow?
Even at this early age, I’m hopeful we can help our daughter learn to plan and look forward to what happens next. Will she need her snow boots or her rain boots tomorrow? Are there any unexpected changes to her plans? At least we can try to avoid the last-minute disaster of my husband and me both saying, “I thought you were supposed to take her to the doctor’s today!”
As our daughter grows, we might add questions or take some away, or do away with the routine entirely. But for now, at least, as she crows over her mistake before we even sit down to eat, the questions are helping her accept her own mistakes without passing blame, and teaching her to acknowledge the contributions of others in a positive way. Sometimes I even have the honor—as she informs me—of making the “biggest mistakes.” I try to take that as a compliment.
QUESTION: Are there ways that you try to help your children accept their imperfections and focus on what they are learning, especially learning from other people? How effective are your methods?
CHALLENGE: At the dinner table or elsewhere, make a plan to use questions that can lead to meaningful conversations about your child’s day or about things they struggle with.
Edited by Katie Carter and Amanda Lewis.
Image by Cate Johnson with graphics by Julie Finlayson.