When I asked classes of teenagers how many of them could ride a bike all of them raised a hand. When I asked how many of them had learned to ride a bike without grazing their knees not a single hand appeared.
How many times did we take a tumble when we were learning to walk? Did we never fall over? Did we never bump and bruise ourselves?
Imagine what would have happened had their been a bigger person on hand to catch us every time we failed. We would never have learned to walk because we would not have had the experience of falling to teach us, or rather to develop our reflexes, so that we remained upright.
It’s one thing to pick up a little one who has failed, after the event, with a cuddle and a few words of encouragement so that they will try again. It is another to deny them the experience that is necessary for them to learn basic skills. We should help them to learn, by allowing mistakes and failures on a small scale, with incidents that will not cause more serious harm, so that they will cope with risk and uncertainty as they grow up. If we can accept their mistakes and misfortunes so will they and they will learn.
Last year my grandson, aged six, watched from a sensible distance – some twenty feet away, as I watched to see how well my bees were flying. One bee bumped into him and became enmeshed in his woolly top. It stung him and his face melted in the way that a child’s face collapses when he needs his mum. I cursed myself; this would put him off bees for life. Fortunately I checked myself and did not enter protective, panicky adult mode.
“Dexter,” I said, “that bee is already dead.” Immediately he perked up and I explained how bees disembowel themselves when they use their stings. (Unlike wasps they can only sting you once.) Five minutes later we were back indoors. “Mum,” he called out. “Mum, a bee just stung me and it’s dead!”
Children are surprisingly resilient. We adults must retain our resilience for their sakes and allow them to learn about mistakes and misfortunes.