Family Life


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Rules #3 “Try” and #4 “Try again”

Cabot 10 - rules #3 "try" and #4 "try again"

You know the face.

The face you get from your toddler the first time you introduce a new food into her life. You pan fry some shrimp for Pad Thai. Or you bought macaroni with white cheese instead of orange. Or in my case, you dare serve chicken fingers with the previously unknown plum sauce.

“I don’t like it,’ comes the inevitable screech.

“How do you know if you haven’t tried it?” comes the wearied parental statement. And so, we sit there for 23 minutes until one bite is taken and we can celebrate. Yay. You tried.

Try is important, but not as important as recognizing that it’s really only the first threshold in a larger challenge – to keep trying. It’s why I reserved two slots on my “10 rules for a great life.” It’s not enough to try, you have to keep trying.

The science is starting to bear this idea out. The ability to get knocked down, then get back up to try again is called “grit.” Angela Lee Duckworth has a wonderful TED Talk on the subject here. The science supports that ability to “try.”

Trying, failing, trying again and succeeding should be the way we learn. I spend a lot of time fostering that sense of independence in the kids. Anyone who says “I can’t do it,” is sent off to take another attempt – whether it’s homework help or a skinned knee created from a wobbly bike.

I know what you’re saying – “well, when you stop trying and recognize the failure?” You’ll know. Sometimes you’ll know a little too late. Sometimes you’ll pull the plug a little too early. So what? We all do too much for too long in this life we live anyway. The important thing is that our kids need to learn to take a few whacks at just about anything before they move on.

Or they embrace it.

That’s the second half of getting the team to try. Not only are you trying to generate that sense of grit, you’re also trying to put a buffet of stuff in front of them so that they can find that thing that they love so much that nothing will stop them from pursuing it.

Psychologists have a name for this too (you’ve probably heard it) called “flow.” As a parent, I actually spent most of my time trying to expose my kids to the flow. It’s not my job to find it so much as it is to get them to chase adventures that they may find worthwhile. I try to do it within reason – two extracurriculars each, and lots of listening on my part. That listening part keeps me from making my own mistakes in finding flow opportunities for the kids.

Try. Then try again. It works for gymnastics and sprouts. Mostly. It leaves kids better prepared to put up with life’s shenanigans, push further for the things they believe in, and live the lives they want.

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