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The Value of Making Mistakes

October 22, 2015|Child & Adolescent

When working with parents, one of the questions we consistently hear is, “How do I prepare my teen to thrive when he or she goes off to college?”

The notion of “helicopter parents” is a hot topic these days, and what parent doesn’t want to protect his or her children and provide them with the best opportunities and advantages possible? Ask any educator, more than ever parents are coming to their kids’ rescue for smaller problems. But is continually saving kids from short-term mistakes or challenges really the best long-term strategy to create self-sufficient adults?

Let’s shift our thinking in terms of what type of approach will benefit our kids the most in the long run: Instead of intervening immediately to save them from a perceived disadvantage, let’s allow them to learn from some trial and error. Experiencing failure is actually an important part of development. Parents can help their children learn to view failure as a learning experience that will prompt self-discovery and set them up for self-sufficiency in the future.

Kids need to experience making mistakes in order to know that failure is okay and can actually be a wonderful learning tool. An important element of learning and practicing decision-making skills is experiencing both positive and negative consequences, and then making adjustments if needed to change the outcome the next time. So it’s possible that losing points for forgotten homework assignment can result in a lower grade in the short term but it might inspire more careful planning in the future, leading to years of better grades.

When we don’t let kids make mistakes we set up the expectation that a first try must always result in perfection. This can inspire a fear of failure as opposed to fostering an eagerness to experiment and learn. This fear can be tremendous source of stress & anxiety. If we make a few mistakes and recover, grow, or learn, suddenly making mistakes becomes less scary. “I am disappointed, but this bad test grade is not the end of the world. I will do better text time by studying harder,” is a healthy perspective. It’s okay to not be perfect on the first try – hardly anyone ever is!

Not every moment has to be structured or directed. Give kids space to be creative, try new things, and work their way through challenges. When kids are allowed to figure out how to manage their own struggles & experiences (with appropriate guidance,) it teaches them how to communicate and advocate for themselves. It also give them an opportunity for self-discovery, to try out being themselves and figure out their personal preferences.

When we teach our kids to be comfortable exploring and making mistakes, we teach them view failure not as a final result, but as a stop along the way on a longer journey to becoming self-reliant and decisive adults.

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