Kids may not like mistakes, but they can learn so much from them. Use the following techniques to teach kids to embrace mistakes and all their lessons.
We focus a lot on mistakes, don’t you think?
How often have we given kids grief for spilling a cup of milk or accidentally throwing a plate in the trash? Why do we correct them more often for words they bungle than the plenty they can read perfectly?
This aversion to mistakes carries over into adulthood, too. Even the most motivated adults don’t like mistakes—they’re the hassles and setbacks that keep us from reaching our goals as quickly as we’d hoped. As inevitable as mistakes are in life, many of us wish we’d simply get it right the first time around.
But given the certainty of mistakes, we need to see the positive aspects they offer, both for ourselves and especially our kids.
For one thing, mistakes are humbling. No one is perfect, and kids need to realize they can never nor should try to be. No one gets to their goals immediately—we go through many mistakes and plenty of practice.
Mistakes also force us to focus on the process, not the final outcome. We’ve all heard the importance of the journey, instead of trying to get to the end by any means necessary. You wouldn’t want your child to push other kids aside just so she can get to the finish line first.
Another benefit of making mistakes is that it encourages kids not to give up. Part of raising a resilient child is developing the grit to keep getting up after every fall. And finally, mistakes help her find solutions. Instead of feeling defeated, she’ll see where she could improve, or change what she did wrong.
How to teach kids to embrace mistakes
That said, the benefits of learning from our mistakes doesn’t always make them any easier to experience. No child wants to see someone else make basket after basket while she can’t get the ball through the hoop even once. No doubt: the mistakes themselves aren’t exactly pleasant.
Still, we can teach kids to make the most of them, to see them in a positive light. We can change how we talk about and react when they make mistakes, and highlight their benefits.
So, how can we help kids embrace mistakes? Watch the video or read the tips below to learn how:
1. Show that mistakes are our best teachers
Mistakes can teach your child so much, from where she can improve to what she shouldn’t do again. Rather than treating mistakes as something to avoid, show her all that she can learn from them. After all, rarely do we reach our accomplishments on the first try, and no great figures got to the top in one day.
Instead, we learn from our blunders, especially when they force us to grow into better versions of ourselves. They show us the steps we shouldn’t do or how to do them differently and reveal what works and the tactics we should reconsider.
Mistakes aren’t stumbling blocks or failures. Think of them as teachers showing your child a new or different way.
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2. Teach your child to find the reason behind the mistakes
Mistakes are only our best teachers when we can find their lessons. They can’t teach anything if we don’t dig deep and find out where we went wrong.
Staring at homework despite your child’s many mistakes won’t reveal the answer. Instead, she has to see where she can’t wrong so she can best correct it.
Or maybe she continues to forget her library book to school every week. Help her develop the habit of putting the book in her bag, adding the task to the dry erase board, or writing a note to herself and taping it to the wall.
Finding the reason behind the mistake—and learning to fix it—is the only way she can learn from them.
3. Watch your reaction to your child’s mistakes
“Oh, no,” I lamented when I saw that my two-year-old had peed all over the floor. Even though he should’ve been sitting on the potty, he managed to pee everywhere but the potty. “You didn’t pee on the potty. You peed everywhere!” My disappointment was palpable.
“Don’t worry,” my husband reminded everyone, particularly me. “Accidents happen. Let’s not focus so much on the mistake and make him feel bad about it.”
I immediately got his point. I needed to put my disappointment aside so it wouldn’t color my son’s view of mistakes and accidents. Because a potty mishap is as accident as they get.
You see, our reaction to our kids’ mistakes can send various messages. Let’s say you told your child to put her dishes in the sink. Except she didn’t just “put” them in, she threw them, assuming that’s how it’s done. As a result, a glass that had been sitting in the sink shattered.
Sure, you could reprimand her for the mistake so she’d know she did something wrong. But she might feel ashamed or confused since she thought she was following your instructions.
What if, instead, you kept your disappointment brief and focused on what she could do next time?
You could show her how to put her dish in the sink gently, or have her try again, this time without throwing. You’re showing that mistakes happen, but they can also serve a purpose. She can learn from mistakes and what not to do without feeling ashamed.
4. Focus on the positive outcomes of mistakes
Try this: The next time your child makes a mistake, say, “That’s interesting!” or “Look at that,” first.
This response doesn’t always apply to all mistakes. I can’t imagine any parent saying “That’s interesting!” when her child pees all over the floor or smashes a glass in the sink. But let’s look at another example:
Let’s say she was playing the piano and needed to play a particular song as outlined in the sheet music. Except she didn’t. It seemed no matter how many times she tried, she couldn’t get the sequence right.
What if, instead of immediately correcting her “mistake,” you say, “That’s interesting!” You can use the mistake as an opportunity to create a different sequence, or work on how to use that bit she did in another piece.
Yes, you’ll want to correct and practice her mistake so she can play the song, but show her that it’s not something to feel embarrassed about. Instead, her mistake could actually develop into something magnificent.
5. Teach your child how to cope with frustration
Ah, the frustration. That can be the most difficult aspect of mistakes for children and the most patience-testing for us parents.
Because no matter how much we embrace mistakes, they can still be unpleasant, big time. Imagine putting so much effort into a task but still making mistakes. Trying to solve a math problem that makes no sense, or figuring out a puzzle to no avail.
Mistakes are inevitable, no doubt, so we need to teach our kids how to cope with the ensuing frustration. For instance, your child can…
- Ask for help. When something feels difficult, let her know she can always ask for help. Asking doesn’t mean she failed or is incompetent, especially since some tasks can be beyond her developmental stage.
- Take a break. Tell her to take a break when she gets frustrated. A quick one-minute break can be all she needs to gather her thoughts, restart and see the task in a different way. And she’ll be more patient and calm instead of agitated, helping her try again.
- Give her a hug. Coping with frustration sometimes means getting non-verbal support. Hold her and let her crumble in your arms and release her emotions.
6. Admit your own mistakes
We won’t send the message that mistakes are okay when we deny the ones we make. Instead, fess up each time you make one.
Your mistakes can be as simple as spilling water on the table or making a mess when you dropped a dish on the floor. Maybe admitting mistakes runs deeper, like apologizing to your child for yelling and losing your temper.
You can also describe mistakes you’ve made in the past. While you don’t want to glorify them, you can mention a few of the simpler ones so she doesn’t feel alone.
Admitting your mistakes shows that everyone makes them. They also don’t define who we are, and we can instead use them to our advantage by learning from them.
7. Don’t rescue your child from mistakes
Let’s say your child has a favorite Lego figure. You’ve reminded her many times to keep it in the same place after playing with it so she doesn’t lose it. (Because we know how difficult it can be to find a tiny figure in a sea of Lego!)
Except… she still didn’t take your advice. And one day, she can’t find the little figure no matter how hard she searches.
So, she asks you buy her another one. If you do, you’d end the frustration, the whining, the arguing, but doing so won’t hold her accountable.
When you rescue her from all mistakes, you deny her the opportunity to learn. She won’t take you seriously the next time about keeping her Lego toys in the same place, especially when she knows you’ll buy her another one.
Instead, teach her how to cope with her frustration, or make cleaning up part of her routine. You won’t be able to (nor should you) rescue her from life’s disappointments. Teaching her how to cope and learn from mistakes is a much more valuable tool.
As I say in my book, 31 Days to Better Parenting:
“Kids can only learn so much if we solve every problem they run into. And this is hard for parents to do. After all, it’s difficult to watch our kids struggle and experience failure and discomfort. If we had it our way, they’d never make mistakes or have to keep trying.
But with each rescue comes another ding to their desire to display their competence. Just as they were trying to prove they’re capable, mom or dad comes in and shows that they’re not. As you can imagine, this feels discouraging.”
8. Praise your child for admitting or fixing mistakes
“Why is he crying?” I asked my kids, referring to my toddler who had run to me in tears.
“He got hurt,” my eldest responded.
“I hit him with the ball,” he admitted, his eyes on the floor.
As tempting as it was to launch into a lecture about being more careful, I had to remember that he had just admitted a mistake—even when he didn’t have to. I didn’t jump into why we don’t throw balls at other people’s faces, and instead first praised him for being honest and fessing up.
Because admitting our mistakes is hard. I have a difficult time confessing where I had gone wrong or the part I played in an argument. When you notice your child admitted her mistake, praise her—thank her, even—for doing so.
This doesn’t encourage her to misbehave. She won’t think, “Wow, mom praised me for being honest. I’m going to hit my brother in the face again!” You’ll of course want to follow up with what she can or can’t do, but she’ll learn that telling the truth was right, even if hitting was wrong.
We learned how important mistakes can be and how to encourage our kids to embrace them. All these strategies boil down to one thing: the way we view and talk about mistakes.
Show your child that mistakes are our best teachers, especially when you encourage her to find the reason behind them. Focus on the positive outcomes of mistakes, and be mindful of how you react when they happen.
With the inevitability of mistakes, teach her how to cope with the ensuing frustration, and avoid rescuing her each time. Admit the times you make mistakes, and finally, praise and even thank her for admitting orc fixing the ones she makes.
So you see, mistakes aren’t that bad. From simple mistakes like spilling milk to large mistakes she’ll face, they can be some of the best lessons she’ll learn in life.
Get more tips:
- 5 Mistakes to Avoid when Your Child Loses a Competition
- 6 Reasons to Stop Labeling Kids
- How to Respond when Your Child Makes a Mistake
- Teach Your Child the Value of a Job Well Done
- How to Prepare Your Child for College (Because It’s Not Too Early)
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A fantastic children’s book that encourages children to embrace mistakes is The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett. Check it out below:
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