Behaviour & Emotions

How to talk about: Making mistakes

Parenting Place talking about mistakes

Have you ever made a misstake? They’re is not knowone who hassent made mistakes in the before. If those sentences frustrate you, it’s possible that you’re not a big fan of mistakes.

Here’s the thing, our children make mistakes all the time. They misspell their own name. They colour trees in blue. Some even eat their crayons. Mistakes are part and parcel of being a human and having a go at life. They’re an important part of any learning process. Therefore, we need to think about how we talk to our kids when they make mistakes so they go into their adult years equipped and confident to take some risks, get it wrong and have another go.

Mistakes are part and parcel of being a human and having a go at life

It feels a bit stink, but it’s okay

Our kids will benefit hugely from our empathy when it comes to the mistakes they make. Our honesty will help them come to terms with the normality of mistake-making and the uncomfortable feelings that accompany it.

Share with your child that it’s understandable to feel embarrassed, disappointed and frustrated when you make a mistake. How do we know? Because we’ve been there before and we’ve felt those feelings too. Acknowledging the feelings, even the really unpleasant ones, will help our kids process their emotions, pick themselves up and keep moving forward.

“It’s okay, we all make mistakes.”

Try and keep it positive, no matter how annoying it can be when milk is mistakenly poured all over the bench or the glasses that were jammed in the dishwasher each get a chip.

“Mistakes can feel a bit embarrassing/frustrating/disappointing, but that’s alright – you’re learning some helpful stuff for next time you give it a go.”

Show and tell

No one enjoys stuffing up or failing. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I hope I send an email this morning and then forget to attach the attachment only to have Brenda from accounts reply-all passive aggressively asking where the attachment is.” We don’t look forward to these moments in life, but they happen. How we react to our own mistakes as adults teaches our kids so much about life.

We don’t need to create a spreadsheet of our failings and talk our kids through our every blunder. It’s more about the fact that our kids are observing our approach to life, so let's ask ourselves what are they observing about:

  • The type of risks we take?
  • The new things we try?
  • How we respond when we make a mistake?
  • How we cope when we fail?
  • Or do we avoid risky experiences (and therefore any potential errors) at all cost?

The learning moment for kids is not in their parents' actual mistakes (although I’m sure they will find some of our failings hugely encouraging/entertaining) – rather, the really powerful learning is in our children noticing how we respond to risk, mistakes and failure. Our kids are learning from us all the time. Occasionally they learn from what we say, but most of the time they learn from what we do.

Safe risks – not an oxymoron

Our approach to mistakes is related to our attitude towards risk. Ask yourself this question:

Do I encourage my kids to take risks where they could actually fail?

Some people hardly let their kids take any risks. Some people let their kids take way too many risks. It’s a tricky balance. We want our kids to be protected enough that they’re safe, yet free enough to become their own people – ideally people with sharp problem-solving skills and smart risk-assessment ability.

When we give our kids just the right amount of freedom, it’s life-giving and wonderful. What we’re communicating to our kids is that we believe that they have what it takes. They end up thinking to themselves, “Wow, my parents really trust me!” or, “Wow, if my parents think I can do this, maybe I can!” or, “Wow, my parents really don't understand how sticky super glue is!”

Our job as parents is to help our children navigate the types of risks they take. Too risky and they might find themselves out of their depth and scared to try again. Too safe and they might never discover their true potential.

Try asking your kids this question:

What is something that you think you are capable of that we haven't let you try yet?

What about fear?

Sometimes fear stops us encouraging our kids towards healthy risks. The fear that our kid will be out of their depth. The fear that our kid won't have what it takes. The fear that they’ve entered the competitive school swimming sports but they can’t actually swim. And fear that they’ll get embarrassed because they don’t have the confidence to wear Speedos in public.

Here's an interesting question – is that fear about our kid, or is that fear about us?

Now, be honest. Because sometimes what we’re actually trying to protect our kid from is something that happened to us. Our child is not us. They won't necessarily make the same choices that we did when we were their age, and they might not even feel the same way. Let’s be careful not to project our past mistakes or failures onto our children. In fact, one of the most life-giving things we can do for our kids is to work through our own anxieties. Do it. Start today – face your fears, past and present! (Although some anxiety around Speedos is always warranted.)

Our kids are going to have to work through their own stuff. So, let’s work through our fears and anxieties so they don't have to work through their stuff and our stuff.

The power of the word ‘yet’

Our kids will stuff up, make mistakes and want to give up. It’s essential that we empathise with how they’re feeling right now, at the same time as encouraging them to be who they could be. That tension is held in the word ‘yet’.

“It’s okay that you haven't worked out how to tie your shoes yet.”

“It’s okay that you haven’t been selected for the top team yet.”

“It’s okay that you haven’t worked out how to spell ‘February’ yet.“

“It’s okay that you haven't mastered pouring milk from a full bottle yet.”

There is power in the word ‘yet’.

Continue to take risks yourself

The other thing we can do to teach our kids to have a healthy attitude towards making mistakes is to continue to make mistakes ourselves. Get out of your comfort zone. Learn a new language, join a social sports team for a sport that you have never played before, cook a lemon meringue pie from scratch, write a kids’ book and have it rejected by every publishing firm on earth.

If something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly while you get good at it

Failure is part of learning. Getting it wrong is how we figure out what something’s meant to be like. Reassure your kids that it’s okay to make mistakes while they’re still learning. Try asking your kids what they think this means:

If something is worth doing, it's worth doing badly while you get good at it.

In the midst of it all, us grown-ups taking risks and making mistakes will help us have empathy for the myriad of new challenges that our children face on a daily basis as they transition from childhood to adulthood. It will also give us an opportunity to demonstrate how to cope with making mistakes, not just talk about how to deal with making mistakes.

Christian Gallen

Christian Gallen

Christian has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long career as a youth communicator and presenter. His passion is seeing young people make great choices and thrive, both online and offline.

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