4 Reasons Why I Want My Kids to Be Design Thinkers (Not Just Happy)

As a new mum, I remember gazing at my sleeping baby and silently vowing to protect, guide and love her. I remember thinking: I’m going to help you grow into the best version of yourself. Whatever you want to do, I’ll help you get there. I just want you to be happy.

I’m sure a lot of other parents can relate. The desire to do the right thing by one’s offspring is a noble goal, a precious obligation, and, at times, an almost overwhelming responsibility.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan. A few years ago, my marriage broke down. I felt that I had failed my kids. I felt that I had failed at life.

But, over time, I realised a few things.

1. Happiness Should Not Be The Goal

Happiness is too transitory and too difficult to easily define and quantify to be a sensible goal. Plus, happiness is impossible to replicate with 100% consistency. What made you happy once may not make you happy now. Therefore, we should learn to think of happiness as a by-product of other goals rather than a life goal in and of itself.

So rather than trying to raise my kids to be ‘happy’, I’m going to do my best to help them become productive, healthy, and caring people. These character traits will hopefully lead to a rich and fulfiling life and greater personal happiness by default.

2. Over Protection hinders Resilience

I know all too well that I can’t protect my kids from everything, even with my best efforts. During their lifetimes, they’re going to experience pain, loss, grief, loneliness, desperation, confusion, uncertainty and anger at events beyond their control. They’re going to lose people they love, miss out on opportunities they think they deserve and feel the ache of personal and professional rejection.

Such is life. The highs can be so very high. The lows are correspondingly low.

But overprotectiveness can hinder the development of resilience and self-belief. So I want my kids to experience routine disappointments so that they’ll know how to regroup and bounce back after life’s inevitable and more challenging ones.

Consider the way we teach our kids how to respond to disappointment.

You didn’t get picked for the team? That’s not acceptable. I’m going to talk to the coach and make sure you’re on the team.

Contrast that response with this one.

You didn’t get picked for the team? Well, that happens sometimes. Why don’t we work on your ball skills so you get picked next time?

Which response is going to better prepare that kid to face adult disappointments like missing out on a job promotion, failing to win the right to buy a house at auction or losing a contract to a competitor? Will they feel that they’ve been treated unfairly and expect someone to intercede or will they acknowledge their disappointment and resolve to do better next time?

3. Failure is inevitable. Learning isn’t.

We only truly fail in life if we make missteps and don’t learn from them.

When things are going well, we’re often too busy living it up to pay enough attention where it’s required. But when things go wrong, we have to take the time to reflect on events and take responsibility for our part.

So rather than making my kids feel bad for their (incidental, minor) failures, I should teach my kids to celebrate failure as a powerful learning experience. Kids who know that they won’t be shamed for making mistakes feel empowered to take risks and venture out of their comfort zones. They’re the kinds of kids we are going to need in the future.

4. We decide who we will become

We can’t always choose what happens to us but we can control our responses and our actions.

Every day, we make choices about how we live our lives and how we handle the challenging situations we find ourselves in. By choosing to respond in a thoughtful and measured way, we can manage and mitigate the fallout of situations beyond our control and in doing so, take some control back.

So instead of teaching my kids that things just happen to them, I want to teach my kids to look at every event as an opportunity for learning and action.

Why I Want My Kids to Be Design Thinkers

The practice of reframing needs and problems as opportunities for actionable statements is the foundation of Design Thinking. Essentially, design thinking involves five main stages:

  1. Empathising – trying to understand a need or problem from the perspective of those who it affects;
  2. Define – identifying and clearly defining a need or problem;
  3. Ideate – designing possible solutions to meet the need or solve the problem;
  4. Prototype – creating working models of design solutions; and
  5. Test – testing solutions in the real world and then refining and improving the original design i.e. iteration.

With Design Thinking, students are positioned as creators, innovators and problem solvers. Through the design process, kids learn to identify an issue, find a solution and to persevere when things go wrong. Thus, with Design Thinking, kids develop all-important resilience.

So I love what we do at Makers Empire to help schools embrace maker pedagogy and teach Design Thinking skills to K-8 students via 3D design and printing. Every day, I’m inspired by the way primary, elementary and middle students are using Design Thinking to identify needs and solve problems in their communities.

Take the grade 5 students who used Design Thinking to help solve problems caused by natural disasters. Or the 10YO boy who used Design Thinking to invent a world-first device for diabetics. He was always getting into trouble for leaving his blood testing strips around the house so he decided to do something about it. Or check out 7 ways schools are teaching Design Thinking using Makers Empire.

Design Thinking is a powerful tool that kids can use every day to improve their lives and the lives of those around them, too. Kids who are Design Thinkers are better able to handle whatever life throws at them. Having gotten used to failing often and well through the design process in the classroom, they’ll be less fazed when they make inevitable missteps in the real world.

That’s when the magic happens.

Author Biography

Christina Soong is a mum of two and the Director of Marketing at Makers Empire. Previously, she held senior marketing and management roles for leading not for profits, and media companies in Australia, Asia and Europe. She was the Executive Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai from 2004-6 and has also worked as a consultant and freelance content developer for food, travel, lifestyle and media brands. Christina’s neglected blog, The Hungry Australian, won the national Best Australian Blogs 2014 competition.

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