The Value in Making Mistakes

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Your son tried out for the junior high basketball team and didn’t make it. Your daughter wanted a part in her school play, but wasn’t chosen. What can you teach your children through the inevitable disappointments and failures of life?

Talk About It

When the time is right, it pays to face disappointments and failures head-on.  A “Here is what you wanted, but this is the reality” kind of talk. Sometimes there will be tangled feelings when a disappointment comes such as blaming others for the situation or expressing self-deprecations like “I can’t do anything right.” It’s helpful for your child to vent frustration when the feelings are raw and painful, but then guide the discussion to a more positive place.

It Hurts

Allow some time to explore the sadness and pain of a big disappointment or a performance blunder. Sometimes there is a period of “mourning the loss” when your child had his heart set on a certain task or role and failed to achieve it. If the failure was due to lack of preparation, there will also follow a period of analysis of the situation.  

The Role of Mistakes

Beyond the disappointment of one traumatic life experience looms a much larger truth. Making mistakes is an essential part of learning. No one thinks of that process as a series of failures. Rather, we realize the child has to practice before attaining success. And that principle can be applied to nearly everything we learn in life.

Every classroom teacher has students who are afraid to make a mistake. They want to be perfect the first time. But learning doesn’t happen that way. Even top students must learn to try something, check for success, learn from errors and move on to try again. Children need to learn to tolerate a level of risk that allows them to try, fail and try again. This is a learning cycle that applies to nearly every subject area and to every character-building life experience.

Parents are instrumental in helping their children learn the skills necessary to deal with the disappointments and failures we all experience in life. Choose the positive outlook that mistakes, errors and failures are just one part of learning any new skill. They’re just a link in the chain of achieving success. Your support and positive attitude toward this learning cycle will set the tone for your child’s future successes.

Here are some tips when walking with your child through failure

Listen. Allow time to process what has happened and why.

Be ready to help analyze what went wrong. Talk it through.

Share anecdotes from your own life. We’ve all been there.

Make a new plan. Try a new activity, set a new goal, work harder next time.

Reinforce your absolute approval of your child as a much-loved person apart from any performance of any kind.