“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”
– John Holt
therapy as playground ladders
On Monday, I took the kids to a park near our house and let Aubade sleep in the stroller while the boys and I played on the playground. It was a challenging playground, a bit above their skill level, and it was fascinating to watch them attempt the various ladders, steps, and climbing walls. They would climb up as high as they were comfortable, then climb back down, then come back and repeat the process, over and over again, until they finally made it to the top – and then they would climb it still more times, until that piece of equipment was no longer a daunting challenge but a mastered skill.
I’ve noticed the same things when the boys are building Duplos, or drawing, or various other activities – if they have a goal in mind, they don’t want to stop trying until they’ve attained it, and once they’ve attained it they’ll repeat it countless times until it is so easy and familiar that they lose interest and move on. (Right now, for example, our home is filled with large 3’s made out of Duplos… it was 8’s for a few weeks but those are no longer challenging for them to build.)
Seeing that drive for mastery and motivation to persevere has made a big impression on me. The boys aspire for perfection in the sense of having a goal and working towards full accomplishment of that goal, but they are more than ready to fail countless times along the path towards their goal. Each failure, each unsuccessful attempt, is seen as a part of the learning process rather than as a setback or a sign of inadequacy – which is radically different from the way I, as a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, tend to view my own failures, but much healthier and more rational! So as I struggle with the techniques my therapist has given me, to retrain my brain into more positive habits of thought, I am going to try to keep those playground ladders in my mind: as I climb toward joy, it’s going to be hard, and I might get scared, and I will probably have to come back down and start over a few times – but that’s no reason to give up! Every attempt will make me stronger and bring me closer to mastery of the skills I desire, and maybe someday I’ll be running up from my depressive triggers just like those boys were scampering up rope ladders and rock walls by the end.