How to Harness Mistakes as a Tool for Growth and Development

April 28, 2020

Part of natural adolescent development evolves from making mistakes. Per Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD — psychologist, researcher, and founder of Roots of Action:

“Learning from mistakes is part of how we challenge ourselves to learn to do things differently … it motivates us to try new, innovative approaches to problem-solving … [and] learning from mistakes helps develop wisdom and good judgement.”

Research published in the Scientific American Journal article Getting it Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn found that providing kids with challenging tests where errors are expected encourages more fruitful learning then tests where deducing the correct answer was the goal. Studies “have found that learning from mistakes enhances rather than detracts from learning.”

As parents, how do you positively guide your child through the emotional turmoil, frustration, and uncertainty of mistake making so they grow and build confidence in the end? Luckily, there are concrete steps to lead you!

1. Make it clear that perfection is not an expectation.

2. Make unconditional love a staple in the face of a mistake. Regardless of the type, severity, or quantity of mistakes, your child should have the confidence that your love and support is unflinching.

3. Allow for mistakes and a variety of them. It’s not solely about allowing for a mistake to occur, but it’s also about creating an environment where a variety of mistakes can be made.

4. Discuss mistakes by sharing examples of “your own mistakes, the consequences, and how you learned from them.” Failing can shake confidence to the core. As a parent — oftentimes seen as infallible to a child — sharing mistakes and successes is a valuable form of praise and encouragement.

5. Discuss taking responsibility for mistakes. Make sure to encourage your child to “take responsibility for their mistakes and not blame others.” By owning failures, your child can also own successes.

6. Don’t focus on past mistakes. Moving past a mistake is just as important as recognizing it. Instead of reliving past mistakes, “focus on the one at hand.” If referencing a past mistake may help your child work through a current problem, make sure to reference not the mistake, but the method that your child used to succeed.

7. Create a mistake-friendly atmosphere through curated praise. Make sure to “praise children for their ability to admit their mistakes … [and] … for their efforts and courage to overcome setbacks.”

8. Be present, feedback is time sensitive! Per the Brain Balance Achievement Center, a child between the ages of 6 and twelve generally has an attention span ranging from 12 to 36 minutes.

9. Incorporate technology that supports mistakes. Per Teach Thought, educational software has the ability to give direct feedback, while also providing the parent with information on their child’s strengths and weaknesses.

10. Discuss with your child “how to apologize when their mistakes have hurt others.” A child’s mistake is not always solo, but can involve others. Part of taking responsibility for their mistake is also recognizing when it affects others.