Understanding the Idea of Process over Product as a Parent
How can we let go and allow our children to engage in the process?
While working on my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, I learned a concept for teaching young children: Process over product. At first, I didn’t understand this concept. The end result is always what matters most, right? How many times have you heard, “It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there.” Our culture is goal-oriented and results-driven. This concept of process over product places the emphasis on the process without defining the outcome.
Think about the way we teach art to young children. During my early childhood training, I was trained in an approach known as Reggio Emilia. This approach encourages children to explore, ask questions and make discoveries without emphasizing the end result. I was discouraged to show or tell the kiddos what we were making. Let’s say the project was to make a frog. You could not hold up a cut out of a frog and say, “Today you are going to glue together a frog. Here’s how it looks.” We all know what this looks like. The teacher holds up a perfectly crafted frog with all the parts glued in the right places. How many times have you seen this? You walk down a school hallway, and every preschooler’s art project looks the same. It makes me cringe!
If we consider a process over product approach, the art activity is explored through a variety of materials and mediums and not focused on the end result. The children are not given a road map — they’re allowed to be creative and glean from the open-ended process.
Let’s consider finger painting, where children mix a variety of colors on a paper or canvas. The sensory input that takes place during this process is fantastic! They’re experiencing what the paint feels like — it could be cold or warm. They play with it in their hands by squeezing and squishing the paint around. They realize when they place their hands on the paper it creates a mixture of colors, that’s visually stimulating and exciting. Through this experience they can begin to understand cause and effect.
I’ve observed toddlers who smack the paper because they’re intrigued by how the paint splashes each time. I have witnessed children who are not yet capable of speaking realize if they smack their hand down harder, the splash of paint intensifies — which they find so amusing! When we only concern ourselves with the product, we lose the opportunity to teach our children how to be present and fully engaged in the process.
The minute I graduated and found myself working in a classroom, this idea of process over product wasn’t always received well by parents. I was constantly asked, but what is it? I would say a painting. This was always followed by me explaining the importance of emphasizing the process, and all the learning opportunities that reside in this space. After my thorough and thoughtful explanation, I was met with a sea of blank faces. Someone would say, “Yeah I get it, but we like to give their paintings to other family members, and these just look like a scribble or nothing. Could we start to make things that the other kids in preschools are making?”
The significance was always placed on the product. Mind you, these are fantastic and loving parents who want nothing but the best for their children. This idea — the result is what truly matters — speaks to a larger issue within our culture.
Let’s consider the college scandal regarding affluent families who allegedly bribed their children’s way into the colleges of their choice. For the accused parents, their only concern was the product, or the end result. There was never any regard for encouraging and observing their children during the process phase of development. When the result has already been decided for you, every part of the process gets compromised.
When we encourage our children to fully embrace a process without being attached to an outcome, we teach them how to be present! This is becoming a lost art. We’re so concerned that our children get into the best schools, get the best grades, play a perfect game, get a great job, that we rob them of the opportunity to live in the present.
It is only when we are fully immersed in the process that we are present, connected, creative and thoughtful. Yes, they will fail. The result may be very different from your plan, but it is their journey, and theirs to determine.
Our role as a parent is to love and guide them through their process, not attach ourselves to the outcome of who we think they should be. Without determining an outcome, allow your children to learn and engage in a process, and see where it leads them.
This is not to say that we should completely abandon the idea of encouraging our children to be ambitious and to achieve their goals. It simply means we have to be willing to observe, and listen to our children without judgment as they develop and grow.
Ask yourself these questions:
Who are they? What do they like? What elicits joy? What seems to challenge them? What is their process like when they’re working through a challenge?
These, along with so many other factors, must be considered. As parents we convince ourselves we’re doing this for their own good: “This is what’s best for them.” Despite the way you spin this, recognize this idea is rooted in the ego of the parent.
We have to allow children to: grow, explore, learn, fail, problem-solve, listen to their instincts and develop their intuition. This can only happen when we allow the process to organically unfold.
As a results-driven culture, we have neglected this idea of engaging in a process. I would argue that it makes most of us uncomfortable. The paradigm is such that A always leads to B. But I am asking you, allow your children to stay in A, providing them the access to learn, grow and experience life without the constraints of moving toward your idea of what B is.
In the next couple days just observe your children. Notice how they solve a problem. What do they do when they feel challenged? Can they be resourceful? How often do you interfere in the process? Also, please note, this idea of process over product applies to all ages.
Think about how often you consider only the product in your life while missing out on all the important parts presented during the process. How many times have you been attached to a specific outcome that you’re missing out on helpful information? In my next piece I’ll go over some examples of how we as parents or adults working with kiddos interfere in the process, without even realizing it.
I can’t wait to hear from you.