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Making Mistakes: How Getting Things Wrong Can Help Your Child

When I was younger, I loathed making mistakes.  I always wanted to do everything perfectly, and fretted over the possibility of making what I would have called a “stupid” mistake on anything from school work, to sports, to social interactions.  It took me many years to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I paid attention to details, no matter how hard I tried, mistakes are a part of life, and they’re bound to happen at some point.  It took me even longer to realize that mistakes are tremendous learning opportunities.  That’s not to say that I now fully embrace making mistakes to the point of being sloppy, but when I make a mistake, I don’t get worked up about it; instead, I try to find the learning in the error.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my fear of making mistakes.  In today’s society, there are so many pressures, especially on children, to be perfect in so many areas of their lives.  Children are expected to earn the top grades, achieve the highest SAT scores, win coveted scholarships, and be admitted to the best universities.  At home, parents may reinforce the societal pressure by covering up their children’s mistakes, correcting their homework to ensure a better grade, and drilling their children on facts until they get it right and, hopefully, will remember it come time for the SAT.  I know of at least one parent who wrote her child’s papers for her!  Children who are constantly praised for their intelligence have added stress to keep performing in the same way, or better.

In the article “Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning” by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., the author takes a look at the material in a recent article in Scientific American called “Getting it Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn,” which stresses that studies have found enhanced learning occurs when children make mistakes by challenging them to do things differently and try new approaches.  Furthermore, Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford University, said that praising children for their intelligence may actually make them less persistent while facing a challenge since they may see their mistakes as a sign of failure.  In Dweck’s work, described in the book “MindSet: The New Psychology of Success,” she reminds parents that unconditional praise oftentimes masks errors and mistakes and can be harmful to children’s development.  She suggests that “being too quick with praise can be as detrimental as correcting homework mistakes that would have provided opportunities for learning.”

Dr. Price-Mitchell ends her article by providing the following “Ten Parenting Guidelines that Help Kids Learn from Mistakes”:

  1. Acknowledge that you don’t expect your children to be perfect.
  2. Let them know your love is unconditional, regardless of their mistakes or lapses in judgment.
  3. Don’t rescue children from their mistakes.  Instead, help them focus on the solution.
  4. Provide examples of your own mistakes, the consequences, and how you learned from them.
  5. Avoid pointing out their past mistakes. Instead, focus on the one at hand.
  6. Praise them for their ability to admit their mistakes.
  7. Praise them for their efforts and courage to overcome setbacks.
  8. Mentor them on how to apologize when their mistakes have hurt others.
  9. Help them look at the good side of getting things wrong!

It can certainly be difficult to stand back and watch your children make mistakes, and your child may handle making mistakes differently than their sibling does, or than you do.  Want to understand why?  One tool that can help is the Kidtelligent Assessment!  This assessment gives you helpful insight into your child’s personality, and then offers parenting suggestions and tips based on his or her unique personality traits, giving you tools to more effectively communicate with your child.  To learn more about Kidtelligent, go to www.kidtelligent.com, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Kidtelligent.