The Zipper Phenomena: Building Character in 30 Seconds. / by James Leath

“It’s stuck, help!”I watched a parent stand next to her son while he was struggling to zip up his jacket. At first, she instinctively reached to help him but then caught herself, paused, then put her hands down by her side. The little boy gave it another attempt. “Dang it!” he yelled to himself, feeling a sense of failure. He looked up at his mom for assistance but was met with a smile as she patiently waited. Receiving no help from his mom, the little boy had no choice but to try again to try again. Again, the little boy was unsuccessful. He threw his hands down in defeat. “I can’t do it,” he proclaimed.

Mom smiled warmly. Calmy, with the sweet tone every child years to hear from their mother, she says, “We need to go, honey. Try it again.” “Hrumph!” He gave it another go. After five more seconds of struggle, the frustrated little boy throws his hands in the air and exclaimed, “I did it!” “Yes, you did.” Mom smiled at her son. “Are you ready to go?” “Let’s do it!”

There are not many things more satisfying to me than a smiling baby, an excited child, or a youth victory dance. This whole situation took place in a matter of thirty seconds. It could have been easily prevented by mom reaching down and zipping up his jacket for him, but she paused and let him do it. Had she intervened, the little boy would not have had the joy of triumph after the struggle. But mom, in her great wisdom, allowed her son to do it on his own. Though I am sure it was difficult to see her son struggle, the payoff of victory outweighed the difficulty of failure.

Just like the rock in the stream shaped by the constant pressure of the water, so are we shaped by the experiences we are allowed to have. Think of the subtle lesson learned by the little boy in that moment. In just a few seconds, he experienced failure, success, and ownership of the process.

He tried. He failed. He tried again. He failed again. Then, he succeeded.

A little hard work from the boy (and a few moments of patience from mom) and a young boy has learned the valuable lesson in life about working hard to accomplish a goal. Now, it’s doubtful any child triumphs over adversity and cries out, “Look at my character grow!” but as adults, we know that is exactly what is happening.

This week, look for situations in practice, in competition, or in life, where the child is struggling. Before you intervene (and if they are safe), let them struggle a bit. The payoff will outweigh the struggle.