As parents, and on the subject of our children’s abilities, I feel that more often than not our default behaviour is to assume that kids ‘can’t’ do certain things. Whether that’s physical in nature, like doing a cartwheel into the splits or gliding safely down a ski hill, or the spewing of knowledge-based information, such as knowing how many neck bones a giraffe has, or solving a sudoku puzzle. On the latter part of that equation, I think we base our assumptions in the fact that we are older, and if someone so much younger than us sharing a piece of information that, in all of our years on this planet is something we’ve never heard before, then surely it cannot be true. The truth is, however, kids are smart; like, really smart. Information is vastly more available to them (for better or worse) than it was when we were younger, and they really, truly, have great ideas; and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s my job to let them express those ideas and be heard.
When I was in the escape room business, we were proud of the purposely designed family-friendly environment we created, and seeing parents, grandparents, cousins, nieces, nephews, and all other manner of kinship enter one of the rooms, was such a delight to see, and a an experiment to behold. I recall numerous occasions of adults getting stuck on a puzzle, focusing on the wrong items while kids were off on the other side of the room solving the very problem their parents were fixated on. Adults were quick to ignore, or shun the suggestions of kids, to the extent of yanking objects away from them, slapping their hands away, or just straight up telling them they are wrong, despite the little ones actually having the solution and sharing it openly. We’d see a massive difference in how kids would blurt out ideas, while adults would stand silently staring at an item trying to figure out its meaning. Kids would touch, explore, interact, and talk, while the adults would stand with hands in pockets and a furrowed brow. Adults, it seemed, were afraid of what sharing their ideas might mean for their reputation.
I see this a lot in my work environment as well: attending meetings where people are generally fearful of providing suggestions or ideas because they aren’t confident they’ll be well-received. Which is a shame because there are so many bright and creative minds in the room whose ideas deserve to be heard. Piecing it back to the escape room experience, I can appreciate why this is: a child being told by the ‘authority’ in the room that their ideas, despite being right, are incorrect and even unwelcome, is only going to develop the same behaviour into adulthood. Sadly, even in running a business of instructing and guiding people not to take their child’s ideas for granted, I catch myself doing it all the time, even as we recently experienced our very first escape room as a family.
For the record: we did escape with 17-seconds to spare, but it was within those final seconds that I let my own anxiety and need to win get the better of me, rather than perhaps teaching and embracing a much larger lesson. The room, from the beginning, was very much a family-friendly environment, and Alison and I, for the most part, did a great job at letting the kids lead the way. They explored the area, spoke their ideas out loud while we listened a tried everything together. Communication is always key in these situations. When a sudoku-type puzzle came up, however, I made the assumption that the kids wouldn’t know how to do it, and so, without asking or saying anything, I worked away in my little corner of the room trying to solve it. Nora would check in on me once in a while, but I either tuned her out or shunned her away. A few minutes later, I solved the puzzle and we were able to make our way through the next set of challenges. Then, with 20-seconds to spare, we were fumbling with the final lock; Nora and Audrey both kept asking me to try, and had it been 20-minutes remaining, I would have let them. But, no, looking at that ticking clock and knowing we were right down to the wire, I instead told them “I’ve got this” and went to work, eventually getting the job done and us out of the room. We celebrated, everyone was happy, but it was a win I am perhaps not most proud of.
Do they know how to open combination locks? 100% they do; in fact I have a box full of them laying around that they play with all the time. Can they do it quickly? Maybe not as fast as would have been required to get us out in 20-seconds, but they could certainly get it done. Would we have been trapped in that room forever if the time expired? Would our lives be any different? Would they have even known the difference if we had gone 30-second over? No, no, and no. On top of that, the next day Nora received a new Chickadee magazine, and what did I catch her doing moments after cracking it open? The sudoku puzzle on the back page. I let my pride and need to succeed cloud my judgement instead of embracing the moment to, in equal parts teach and learn from my children.
We do these types of games in our household on a regular basis now (a great series called Unlock, if you’re looking for something fun in this genre), and what started with the kids versions of at home puzzle/escape rooms, has now evolved into the ages 12 and up versions. Sure, they may get a little frustrated sometimes with the more difficult puzzles, but so do I! There’s great reward, however, in figuring them out together and getting to that ‘aha!’ moment as a family.
When I allow our kids the opportunity to express and share without judgement, it’s not only providing a safe environment, but we get to witness some pretty incredible outcomes. I have learned a lot by letting go of my assumptions and, while it does take a great deal of effort to not just discount whatever new information they bring home with them from school each day, I am getting better and listening to and trusting what they have to say. After all, they were right when they told me that giraffes and humans have the same number of neck vertebrae; and so, I stand corrected.