How To Handle Your Child’s Inevitable Mistakes

Mom consoling daughter

Mom consoling daughter

Your child is bound to make mistakes. And there will be many of them. For kids growing up is a tough process. It is important to help your child deal with his anger and turn every experience (even those that are filled with mistakes) into learning opportunities. Over my life, I’ve realized the importance of recognizing the child’s effort (and not only the result) as a crucial approach to helping children manage their feelings of failure or disappointment.

Taking advantage of this situation may not be simple, but it is beneficial. As long as your child’s action is not something crazy is good for his memory and, therefore, also for learning. Along the same lines, studies have found evidence that when a child makes a mistake while learning something new, his or her memory improves and this is of great help during the learning process.

Acknowledge your child’s efforts, not just the outcome.

Skill mastery takes practice and develops in little steps. Some children may consistently make small gains forward. But, these individual steps forward might be so small that these children do not even notice that they are making progress and become frustrated.

Other children may struggle with a task for days or weeks and then, seemingly overnight, completely master the skill. During those initial days or week, when little or no progress is being made, these children are likely to become frustrated and may give up.

Because it will take many steps for your child to achieve a desired outcome, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate his effort, not just the outcome. For example, when your child first tries to use scissors, comments such as, “I can see that you are really trying,” “Your fingers are almost in the correct positions,” or “I know this is difficult but you are doing a wonderful job of not giving up” are critical to encourage perseverance.

By letting your child know that you are pleased with his efforts and proud of his persistence, you can help him feel successful even before he ultimately achieves success. This encouragement will entice him to continue trying which increases the likelihood that he will be successful.

If you wait until after your child has mastered the task to offer praise, there are two possible but negative outcomes:

  1. Your child may become frustrated by his inability to achieve instant success and give up.
  2. Your child may hesitate to engage in an activity unless he feels certain he will succeed on his first or second try.

When this happens, your child risks beginning a self-fulfilling cycle of failure.

Try this at home

Often I encounter a child who is struggling and becoming frustrated or disheartened despite my best efforts to sincerely praise and encourage him. When this occurs, I turn to the amazing magic of… a video camera!

Begin by filming your child working with a certain tool or on a particular activity. If he asks, which my children always did, you can show him the video after he is done working. Just don’t delete it. Then, the next time you see your child becoming frustrated with his lack of progress or inability to complete a certain task, play back an earlier tape. Seeing himself working on the video on a more basic skill will reinforce for him how much progress he has made.

As you watch the tape together, ask your child to explain to you what he is doing in the video. Then comment on the perseverance your child was showing in the video and how he didn’t give up, even though he may have been struggling. Relay your confidence that it won’t be long before your child has mastered the task he is currently struggling with, just as he mastered the task he was struggling with in the video. As your child laughs and marvels at how he struggled with what is now a task he easily completes, he will be reminded of the many small steps that go into achieving an ultimate goal and the importance of perseverance.

Never use fear as threat

Fear is not a good tool to teach a child what to do and what not to do. Threatening the child with monsters or situations that cause them fear will make their fear grow, but it will not teach them the proper way to behave. They will obey in that instant, but the next time, they will misbehave again without having learned anything.

Accept if you have made mistakes

If it was you who made the mistake, acknowledge it in front of him and talk to your child about it. Many times we parents are afraid to accept a mistake because we believe that we will lose authority, credibility or respect in front of our children. But the truth is that accepting that we have made a mistake is an act of courage and, of course, of wisdom. Acknowledging the mistake becomes an act of humility.

Teach them that they have the right to make mistakes

Your child does not have to be perfect and should know it. Let them know that they also learn from their mistakes; this will create a precedent in them and will help them not to make the same mistake again.

Recognize positives in your child

The recognition of positive characteristics in children can help them feel confident and inspires them to embrace the work involved in learning as they feel confident about their capabilities. But, excessive and purposeless praise can cause the motive for the child’s actions to stop being internal and become the pursuit of external rewards. Eventually, the satisfaction of doing something right and being proud of it is second-nature.

In reality, when people receive excessive praise , they are influenced by the opinions of others and behave appropriately because they are aware of an incentive. We as adults are taught that self-esteem is increased by praise However, the result could be reversed and instead of building confidence and self-assurance, it could cause a dependence on praise.

What can you share with other parents?

What skills has your child worked for days or weeks to master? And what skills did he seemingly master overnight? How did you encourage your child to keep trying a challenging skill and not give up? How did you celebrate when he finally mastered something he had been working on for a while?