THE POWER OF TRYING
“Why don’t you try it?” Those five little words can make the difference in whether your children grow up timid or assertive, stifled or successful. The parent who harps on, “Don’t try that, you’ll get hurt! You’ll be laughed at! You’ll just be disappointed!” is sowing the seeds of either a future limited by anxiety and hesitation, or (if the child is strong-willed) a family relationship torn by conflict.
And remember, “try it” does not mean “make one halfhearted effort and give up if there are no immediate results.” Thomas Edison (who went through thousands of prototypes creating his great inventions) reportedly said there’s no such thing as failure until you give up, no matter how many approaches you find that don’t work. Edison knew the power of trying and continuing to try—as did J. K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, and hundreds of other famous names who would still be unknown had they discouraged easily. Don’t encourage your children to fear setbacks: encourage them to emulate people worth emulating.
If you still have doubts about something your child shows interest in, consider the following questions before automatically objecting “Don’t try it”:
- Is there any real danger involved? “Danger” does not include the possibility of looking silly (unless, perhaps your child is highly sensitive and surrounded by real bullies just waiting for her to do something “stupid”—in which case, help her find a new peer group or school). Danger also doesn’t include the risk of hitting a dead end, having to try more than once, having to reevaluate one’s approach, or even incurring a minor bruise. Rather than trying to “protect” your child from every possible disappointment—which only leads to worse problems down the road—save your objections for ventures that carry real risk of landing someone in the hospital.
- What is the material investment? If your child wants to join a sports league, and the dues and equipment would send you into debt, you’re justified in not immediately handing him the funds to try it. But don’t just say, “No, that’s too expensive.” Encourage him to think about how he might raise some of the money himself, or get a scholarship, or create his own sports league with neighborhood friends. Not only will he learn responsibility and the value of money, but this approach encourages him to think about whether the team is really important or simply an impulse.
- What is the time investment? A surprising number of people budget their money carefully but thoughtlessly give away their time, saying “yes” to every request without considering what they’re already committed to, or what they might make impossible by default. Encourage your children to test activities on a small, close-to-home scale before signing up for a six-week program that requires long-distance transportation. And remember, even if the rest of the schedule is empty now, something better may come up that you’ll wish you’d saved time for.
“Try” can mean either “dip your toe in the water” or “keep at it until you win the Olympic gold.” What’s important is that it does not mean, “Always play it as safe as possible.” That’s the road to mediocrity and discontent.