Dr Justin Coulson is a leading parenting expert, author of nine parenting books and co-host of Channel Nine’s ‘Parental Guidance’. Here, he explains why it’s important for children to learn it’s OK to make mistakes.
He says, “From toddler-hood, to teenage years, one thing is certain – we all make mistakes. How we handle mistakes and how we learn from them in childhood can set us up for life.”
Dr Coulson shares his parenting top tips on mistake-making and how to handle them:
1. Calm the storm
Most parents of toddlers and preschoolers know the feeling – when emotions start to rise when your child is attempting a task for the first time, or learning something new. They’ll try and try and then – bam – it all ends in tears. The item is thrown, the artwork screwed up and your little one is kicking their legs on the floor. It’s all too easy to jump in and try to fix it for them but the best option is to wait calmly and quietly for the temper to subside and tears to dry. Then, when they’re calm, encourage them to try again. It may take some gentle guidance from you but in the end, they will feel proud that they achieved their goal and they learned something along the way – that if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
2. Fear of failure
Often, parents with school-aged kids tell me that they see their child becoming despondent or disengaged with schoolwork and after-school activities. “It’s like they don’t even want to try,” they say. This presents an opportunity to connect with your child and find out what’s really going on. There may be many reasons but often it can be a confidence issue down to FOF (fear of failure). If you can, explore with them the ‘worst case scenario’, i.e., what would happen if they did try and fail? How bad would it really be and what would they learn from it? Sometimes, by taking them down the path of failure, they can actually feel empowered to take control and move from fear to acceptance by trying something new.
As with everything in life, having a good outlook, or attitude, can really change your perspective and this is particularly true with regards to teaching kids the value of making mistakes. Having a ‘never mind, try again’ attitude can really help take the fear out of mistake making and help children place their mistakes into perspective. Bouncing back from mistakes is a valuable lesson in resilience – something that will stand your children in good stead in life.
4. Lighten up
As with everything, kids learn by example. If they see you bounce back from a fail, they are likely to bounce too. Share with them your success and failure stories. Throw in some humour to make them laugh. There’s something about laughter that can really lighten up the ‘heaviness’ and fear of mistake-making. Share the outcomes and learnings too, so they can understand that sometimes, mistakes can lead to understanding and new beginnings or different ways of doing things.
5. Practice again and again
Researchers have found that when we ask our kids to do something perfectly, they feel pressure but when we ask them to do something over and over again, the pressure comes off – and they improve. The mistakes don’t matter because it’s about quantity rather than quality… but with quantity comes the expertise that practice promotes, which ultimately drives quality. This builds competence for kids, which is incredible for their resilience.
Dr Coulson says that one of the great ways to encourage younger children how to handle mistakes is through art and craft.
Bea Farrarons, art and craft expert, agrees. She says, “When it comes to art and craft, there are no mistakes – just the joy of being in the moment and the wonder of self-expression.”
Unfortunately, she says that while younger children can truly embrace this creative freedom, it can often change when kids start school, with many becoming anxious about making mistakes. To help address this, Bea has developed a range of fun art and craft activities incorporating making, then correcting mistakes that pre-schoolers and early primary school-aged kids can have fun with.
“I decided to help kids replace the fear of mistakes with having some fun using Frixion erasable pens, which are perfect for this, as mistakes can be erased out. It helps children feel confident that they can then put pen to paper in the first instance and also learn from their mistakes along the way.”
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