Most adults want to appear perfect in the eyes of the children in their lives, and why wouldn’t they? After all, they look up to you, and isn’t this the best way to show children the type of person they should want to grow up to become, the perfect person who never puts a foot wrong? Well, no it’s not. In fact, this facade of perfectionism can actually be highly damaging to children. Why? Because making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn, and if kids learn that making mistakes is a bad thing, then they’ll develop a fear of trying new things because, lets face it, perfectionism is unachievable and everyone makes mistakes when trying something new for the first time. This is the basis of Jessica Lahey’s fantastic book The Gift of Failure, and it’s a book that every parent should read.
However, I think there’s an important aspect of teaching children a willingness to make mistakes that was only tangentially touched on in Jessica Lahey’s book. This is the importance of children seeing the adults in their lives making mistakes and responding positively to them. Children are always watching and learning from adults, and they are much more likely to pick up and apply positive behaviours and skills if they see important adults in their lives displaying these same behaviours on a regular basis. Yet, most adults do their utmost to hide their mistakes from their children, and if they get caught, they do their best to cover it up: they pretend that they were just clowning around, that they weren’t really trying, that they did wrong on purpose or, worst of all, they deny that they ever made a mistake in the first place and that the child must have misunderstood what happened. The message this sends to kids is that mistakes are something bad that need to be hidden away, rather than something that’s positive and that need to the openly admitted and analysed so that they can learn from them, and this is never a good lesson for a child to learn.
So, instead of hiding your mistakes away, try to be much more open with your children about them. Admit your mistakes, discuss them with your children, ask your child for advice on how to do something better the next time, show them how you can learn from a mistake, share with them examples of mistakes you have made and how you got passed them, tell them the lessons you’ve learn throughout your life from the mistakes you have made. This will encourage your child to see mistakes as positive events they can learn from rather than negative effects they should do their utmost to avoid and to hide away when they inevitably happen. Yes, this involves exposing your own vulnerabilities to your child, and that can be a tough thing for adults to do, but the pay-off for your child is immeasurably greater than your momentary discomfort. A willingness to make mistakes, and to examine and learn from them rather than simply hiding them away, is a crucial part of developing a growth mindset, and that in turn is one of the more important core life skills that will determine whether or not your child grows into a happy and successful adult. If you don’t let your child see you making mistakes, and dealing with them in a positive manner, then you’re helping to foster a fixed mindset that will stunt their development and limit their capabilities, not because of their innate abilities, but out of the fear of making a mistake and not appearing perfect at all times to others, and surely this is something that no adult would want for a child?
So go on, be brave, next time you make a mistake in the company of your child, admit it to them, and then show them how to deal with it positively by openly, and honestly, dissecting the mistake so that you can see what went wrong and learn how not to make the same mistake again next time you find yourself in a similar situation. It might be an uncomfortable thing to do, at least the first few times you do it, but just wait until you see the positive effect it has on your child next time they, themselves, make a mistake. I think you’ll find the result well worth the effort.
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.