Every parent needs to know how to guide children to learn from their mistakes. As adults, we have learned we should take our time to perform certain tasks so we are less likely to make mistakes. The key here is “less likely.” But I think most will agree that in learning to do anything there is a learning curve or the amount of time it takes to learn to do something with a degree of competence or proficiency.
As we are learning it is normal to not do something correctly, perhaps we’ve done it better than our previous attempt, but not competently. We make mistakes. We may make mistakes but if we have the right foundation and attitude, we are also learning. We analyze or calculate our actions, make our assessment, and plot our next action, then we try again. We consider what happened before and we try again. The question is how did we get to that point? How did we get to the point where we can muster the courage, the nerve, and the will to try again when we messed up the first time, or the second time, or even the third time?
We learn the answer to this question while we are very young. Whether we learn something good or bad about mistakes, we do learn about them, and we get these lessons from our parents, teachers and other primary caretakers. We must tread carefully, fellow parents, if we love our sons and want the best for him. Here's how to guide children to learn from their mistakes.
During quiet moments, reflect on what type of son you would like to raise. What kind of man would you like him to be? Having these answers ahead of time will help to maintain your sanity. Raising a child is a lengthy and tedious process that cannot be expected to produce results overnight.
But what should we do when the little guy messes up? Turn what could be a mistake into a lesson. Use the mistake as a prime opportunity to teach him.
Consider this: When the first mistake is made, regardless of where we can teach our son that it’s okay, the world will not come to an end. Sometimes it helps to speak first to self, better than screaming about what has been spilled, what was broken, or questions about where the dirt came from. As soon as your son has minimal eye-hand coordination, give him the opportunity to do little things, no matter how little, but more importantly to clean up his mess. You can help him best by letting him correct the mistake or clean up the mess. There is an incredibly powerful feeling of responsibility that you have the power to impart to a child at a very young age. First, you must learn to breathe through the moment. Look beyond the moment into what could be the best lasting impact on your son. Small tasks or moments spent helping can speak volumes in the life of your son.
It is possible for a three-year-old to pour his own juice. Really! Not from the full ½ gallon container but if you transfer some of the juice to a smaller container and give him his own (plastic) cup, you will both find that this toddler will be able to meet a small but very necessary need he has for himself. He can experience a tiny but quite significant feeling of independence at a young age. So will mom or dad. “Oh joy, my baby poured some juice.”
All too often as mothers and fathers (and let’s not even talk about those loving grandparents), we want to fix what’s wrong for those children we love, without even thinking about the benefits our little one can gain by letting him fix things for himself. We want to clean up the mess, pick up the toys, correct the small mistakes made by our children, then quickly move on to the next task. The more we clean up behind a child who is capable of cleaning up for himself, the more we teach him to be dependent; we cripple him a little at a time by reinforcing the concept of others doing for him while he could be doing more for himself. We ultimately delay our child learning the basic skills necessary for living a successful life because it would be faster and easier for us to do things ourselves. It’s no wonder they still want us to clean up the mess once they have grown.
For the parent teaching this lesson, please know it will take you three times the effort and patience than just pouring the juice and calling it a done deal. BUT, once this child learns that he can pour his own juice, he will want to make his own sandwich, and help with other things as he is able; as he sees himself as being able. And if he thinks he can do it, I encourage you to let him try. Basic safety precautions should be taken in the kitchen around knives and access to the stove and such, even the refrigerator can be a dangerous place for an unsupervised, curious and confident toddler. Be careful but be encouraging and supportive and you can teach even the youngest toddler that a mistake is only bad if you learn nothing from it.
Life offers enough of its own wasteful detours and destructive traps to us all but life also offers sunrises and rainbows. If we don’t equip our sons with the tools to deal with simple things like spilled juice, then how can we expect him to deal with the challenges along his journey in life? Will your son WANT to take on challenges or will he shy away from them? Your son will need to be capable of handling things on his own and when you may not be around. From a first-grade bully or not getting the grade he had expected, allow your son to take life on at his level and in his time.
By encouraging baby steps toward independence, we are equipping and preparing our son with the ability, the will, and the courage to try something more difficult on his own. He will be less afraid to take on new tasks, new challenges. A child who has been allowed to make mistakes as a simple part of growing without ridicule or retribution will never be afraid to try. He can be successful because he will not be afraid to fail. Even mistakes can serve to fulfill wonderful purposes. Mistakes can open the doors to opportunity, but if a child or adult is busy beating himself across the head over making a mistake, he will be less likely to go after opportunity for fear of failure.