Puzzle Pieces: A Reflection on Remaining Teachable

I have a puzzle that I like to use with my younger therapy clients. I’m sure there’s a name for this type of puzzle, but I don’t know what that is. It is a bunch of smooth edged squares, triangles, and diamonds that all need to be fit together into one square frame. I use it to help my young clients learn patience, determination, emotion regulation, and problem-solving skills. It is quite a difficult puzzle, and many children need several sessions of practice before completing it for the first time. Even then, they have to do it over several more sessions before they really get the hang of it and can complete it easily.

Before I ask a child to get started on the puzzle, I explain that it is a difficult puzzle, and there is no one right way to put it together. Each individual experiments to find the fit that works for them. I tell the children this, and I know that this is true, but it is so hard to bite my tongue when I see a child doing it wrong. I have watched SO MANY children put this puzzle together. There is no one right way, but there are a lot of wrong ways! As I said, part of the purpose of the puzzle is to teach children patience and determination, so other than encouraging children to keep track of what works and what doesn’t, I refrain from telling them what to do. And it’s a good thing too, because in spite of all my experience, in spite of the hours upon hours that I have spent watching different children put this thing together in different ways, I still get surprised. Every once in a while, as I sit there biting my tongue, watching a child build upon a foundation that I just know is going to backfire, magic happens. It works. They complete the puzzle. Now, I’ve had this experience a few times before. I feel sure the child is doing it wrong, then they complete it in a way I never imagined possible, and I am reminded that I really don’t have all the answers, even to a simple child’s puzzle. Each time it happens, I am surprised.

It would be silly if I didn’t use my knowledge and life experience to guide my choices, and selfish not to offer any wisdom I’ve got to people I care about. At the same time, there will always be so much that I don’t know. I need to remind myself frequently that I have both much to offer, and much to learn. It is humbling and gratifying to experience this, and I encourage others to look out for those moments when you too can witness a surprise ending to one of life’s many puzzles.

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