Parenting

'Nailed It' Helped Teach My Kids -- And Me -- An Important Lesson

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My kids stumbled across the Netflix baking show Nailed It when they were looking for a movie to watch. An automatic preview started playing and all three of them were mesmerized. I enjoy the show, but my oldest is eight and my twins are six so I really didn’t think it would hold the attention of all three of them.

If you haven’t seen it, the premise is that three amateur bakers try to recreate cakes decorated by professional pastry chefs. The results usually are not good, and the side-by-side comparisons of what contestants were supposed to create versus their final product are a mix of comedy and tragedy. My kids love the charisma of host Nicole Byer and they get a kick out of the cool cake creations. But the biggest appeal? They love seeing three grown ass adults fail in spectacular fashion.

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To be clear, my kids are not celebrating in spiteful satisfaction when eyes made of frosting slide off of what looks to be a melting mannequin on the side of a large cake pop. Rather, they seem to be expressing empathic gratitude in seeing people who “should” be able to do well—or at least a lot better—fall short.

I know allowing our kids to fail is beneficial. Rescuing them doesn’t allow children to develop problem solving or creative thinking skills. Helping them when they don’t want or need it can eat at their self-esteem and lower their desire to do things on their own. If they never feel the sting of defeat or the frustration of trying when it comes to the smaller tasks, they won’t learn how to manage their emotions when the stakes are higher. Failure creates resiliency and I want to raise motivated, flexible, and tough kids.

But it’s hard to watch our kids struggle, especially when tantrums are involved. It feels impossible to stand back or hold our tongues when their frustration grows. And it breaks my heart when I have to hold the broken hearts of my children, but disappointment happens. My job is not to protect them from all of the hard stuff in life, but to show them that they are not alone.

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My kids know I am there for them when they need me, but they also feel the pressure of being watched as I wait to be needed. Being so dependent on us creates an illusion of being seen through a microscope. They sense our observations and can be embarrassed by our presence but lack of interference. Dribbling a ball, tying their shoes, manipulating a puzzle, or solving math equations are common tasks that are maddening to children but simple for us. Kids can’t help but watch us easily solve something that causes them great frustration, and then they compare our ability to theirs.

In doing so, kids see us as perfect, or at least a lot better than they are.

When I play Mario Kart with my kids, my oldest daughter will lament the belief that she is awful at the game. She never finishes the race in the top five. She becomes mad and frustrated and turns her big, negative feelings onto me. She blames me for her perceived failure because I haven’t taught her how to play as well as I do. I told her it takes patience and learning how the remote responds to her movements. She wanted no such explanation. Kids don’t want to hear that time, practice, and experience make them “better.” Sometimes they just want company to their misery.

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The contestants on Nailed It are their company. And when I pointed out that I was in last place during a round of Mario Kart, my daughter’s mood improved. My daughter loves to win, but in this case she wanted to see signs that she was getting better and comparing her game-playing to mine did that for her. I realize that comparison is not how we should view our successes, but it’s okay to build a bit of pride and confidence in our kids during games of friendly competition.

Kids know what it’s like to see an art project or a sport, want to make it or play it, and then have their hopes and dreams shattered by their inexperience or inability to make their hands and body do what their brains think they can. We know what that’s like too. It fucking sucks.

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I don’t hide my growls or swear words from my kids when I am frustrated. I tell my kids when I can’t figure something out or when I mess up. I continually tell them I am okay being wrong if it means I can learn from my mistakes. I am quick to tell my kids that I am not mad or frustrated at them when I am obviously distressed. Sometimes they follow my lead and let me struggle, but other times they will ask if they can help. Depending on the situation, I model what I want to see in them. In some cases, I tell them I just need to keep trying. But other times, I take their offer. My kids get a tremendous boost when they perceive themselves as helpers. Not only are they no longer alone in the idea that they are the ones who always need help, but they can put themselves in an empathetic place.

When my oldest daughter needs help with something she automatically assumes others will judge that as a sign of incompetence. She tells herself that everyone thinks she is dumb. But when I am being helped by her, I thank her for being kind. I tell her that while she may understand something better than I do, I know she doesn’t see me as dumb. Learning is not a sign that I am a failure.

Messing up is proof that I am trying — and if I want my kids to keep trying, they need to see my imperfect attempts too.

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