Why it’s fine for children to make mistakes

The sound of a mistake gets louder when we choose to think of it as something to be amplified. While making a mistake almost always gets people into trouble, it’s actually healthy for kids. Here’s my opinion as an educational consultant. 

When was the last time a mistake makes you feel unworthy, incompetent, and even unlovable? Do our kids feel this way too? As much as we try to be doting parents, we struggle with this dilemma every day, don’t we? Our children make mistakes and we wish they hadn’t –  not at the wrong time. 

Years ago, my friend was at a loss of what to do when her five year old son denied tossing an apple core out of the window. Being a teacher, she was quite a stickler for rules. I was a spectator of the tirade, an episode which I was sure left an indelible scar in his little mind. Did he even know why his mother was so angry? Was he crying because he was upset at being scolded or guilty at the mistake he made? Those small tragic sobs and sniffs still tug at my heartstrings. Having worked with many parents and kids professionally for twenty years now, I assure you that it’s really fine and even healthy for kids to make mistakes.

1. It is important to make mistakes.

Conventionally, we believe the right way to be successful in life is to make fewer mistakes. How so, may I ask, if a kid is still going through new experiences and every new thing that they do or see is their first? Before the magic of discovery is experienced, a well-intended adult tells them what to watch out for and what to avoid doing. How fun is that? We often observe a kid snatching a toy which we are demonstrating to them before we could even complete our explanation and saying, “Let me try this.” Then worriedly, we watch on, giving cues and frowning, poised to speak when things go wrong. We don’t want to be helicopter parents.

Making mistakes give your kid the freedom to decide how to rectify them. It gives them the space to express themselves with a gasp or chuckle. It draws out emotions that make them unique. You get to observe how they respond to problems and get creative in fixing them. (Who knows? They might remind you that you were not as ingenious when you were younger!)

2. Overcoming mistakes helps improve self-esteem.  

Conventionally, mistakes are small pebbles that lead us to the rock of failure.  It is tough to accept a mistake, because they are cloaked with an unforgiving red ink, marked by disapproval and pelted with criticisms. If this is often too harsh for an adult, think about how a kid could take it all in. Saying ‘it’s fine, we can try this all over again’ to a kid means much more than you think. 

To a growing kid, the ability to learn depends on the willingness to try. The next time your tot shakes her head and could not sing well, don’t be too quick to feel disappointed. The joy of parenting lies in taking an alternative approach to how we guide our kids to seek improvement. Harsh ways may not always help. Could it have been your efforts at getting your precious girl to chase solutions and get better and better to meet your expectations? She might already have lost her confidence, simply by operating from the point of dread…and fear.  

While you may think that confidence can be gained when you start praising your kid and dishing out rewards, the damage may grow over time. If a kid feels that they have to be the best or the smartest to be accepted by their parents, they will never be truly happy with themselves. The next time your kid makes a mistake, try saying, “You almost did it! I’m sure if you try again, it’ll work.”  Meaningful parenting is about winning over the kid at times. We gain a sense of fulfilment in return.

3. Mistakes encourage the desire to learn new skills. 

Stress isn’t always bad. It can help children rise to solve challenges, resolve problems and think out of the box. New skills are almost always built on mistakes that people make. When was the last time your son decided to hold his breath a little longer to stay afloat? When did you stop telling him to close the drawer more carefully since the last time his little finger was hurt? There are mistakes that a kid won’t ever forget and we will not have to remind them again.

When accidents happen, acknowledge to yourself that they feel the pain (and shock) more than you do. When they cry or keep quiet, they are really trying to process the experience in their young minds. Instead, praise them for being strong and brave. Appreciate every drop of tear, scream (yes, please!) and whimper. It’s the least we can to allow them to express their disappointment at making that mistake for themselves. Take this chance to remind them of your unshakable love – make sure they can always count on you to believe in them.

4. Embracing mistakes build character. 

We know how surprising parenting can be. From the point of conception to birth and going through the very first years with our kids, parenting is a surprising and wonderful process of discovery. We learn more from our experiences with our children than we ever could. It is a blessing.

It’s so important to allow our kids to make mistakes. The first fall, the many attempts to pronounce Dada, or shovelling that tiny spoonful of food into their mouths with awkwardness…These tiny, precious experiments are diary moments worth giggling at, and are triumphs worth rejoicing.

Our response to our kid’s flaws is a log of our skills as parents. There is going to be an endless flow of things that will never go the way anybody wants. How we respond goes a long way for our children’s social and emotional development.

So, back to my friend whose child threw the apple core out of the window. We found out that he didn’t. When I babysat him one afternoon, he showed me how he bit off the last morsel of apple, chomping down hard on the stiff apple core – stalk, pips and all. 

“ Because Mommy said, ‘Don’t throw away the apple core.’ ”

Carean Oh founded Writers Studio School of English, registered with the Ministry of Education, Singapore. As an Educational Consultant, Carean Oh writes about modern parenting trends and provides effective tips for parents. She draws on a 20-year experience as an educator, teacher trainer and educational consultant, having worked with kids aged three to twenty-one.

By Carean Oh, Writers Studio.

- Carean Oh


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