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Tiny Arat Hosseini, 4, is used to failure. His dad has spent years training him to "be a champion" in their home in north Iran. He posts videos of his son's efforts on an Instagram account that has now gained Arat fame around the world — and 1.2 million followers.
Recently, one of Arat's videos showing him trying to jump from the floor onto a step stool went viral. In the video, Arat attempts the jump over and over again without success, sometimes hitting the stool and falling in a way that would make any parent cringe and wince.
But at the end of the video, success: after getting a few words of encouragement and a kiss on the head from his dad, young Arat finally makes the jump. Arat's joyous reaction to finally landing on the stool and the way he celebrates with his proud dad makes a strong case for parents to encourage their children, be there for moral support, and then... step back.
"I love this video for so many reasons," said Jessica Lahey, author of "The Gift of Failure." "Some parents assume that letting go is about going away, about saying, 'Good luck with that,' and taking off.
"The kind of letting go that results in real learning, however, is different. It’s what this dad does in this video. He gives his son space to learn and figure things out for himself, but he’s supportive and offers feedback when he needs it. This kind of parenting, 'autonomy-supportive' parenting, is how we raise kids who can be frustrated and persist, learn from their mistakes, and trust that our love is unconditional."
On Instagram, Arat's father offers insight into his philosophy. "Sometimes people tell me if I was living abroad, I would be accused of child abuse, and some other people accuse me of making use of my son to earn money," he wrote in one caption.
"But there are still a few people who know I am an ordinary father like many other fathers in the world. I like to practice with my son to make him a champion," he wrote. "I share videos of him so that poor families like us learn that they can be successful without expensive facilities. They only need to try. I just want to be a motivation for others and I love my son."
For American parents who have a hard time watching their own kids struggle or attempt things that could hurt them, Arat's video hits home.
"You spend years doing everything for your kids, and then when it comes to holding back and letting them flourish, the urge to protect them from failure is strong," said Sarah Cottrell, a mother of three children ages 8, 4, and 11 months in Bangor, Maine. "Sometimes as a mom, my ability to stand back is as much a lesson to me as failure is to my kid."
This past winter, Cottrell had to learn this lesson when she taught her sons to snowboard. "I was SO nervous about injuries, and my 8-year-old — who has hemophilia — was insisting on learning on his own," she said. "He definitely fell a ton, and it was harder for me to not intervene than it was for him to not give up."
Arat's father even seems to struggle sometimes. In the caption of one video showing Arat trying to do sit-ups, his father wrote, "I told Arat that’s enough, but he wanted to continue. There are times that I get a video from him, but I don’t post it because he looks tired and unhappy.
"But after we were done with this exercise, he told me: 'Dad, please post this video. When I grow up, I want to see how hard I pushed myself and practiced for being a champion.'"