As a parent, it can be challenging watching and allowing your child to make mistakes. As well as this, how we react to a mistake when it is made, is an area of parenting that can often be overlooked.
How do both you and your child react when a mistake is made?
Whether they’ve accidentally broken an heirloom, spilt a drink, misplaced their pocket money, missed the school bus or not received the marks you expected – what is your initial reaction, and have you considered how it may affect your child?
Some look to comfort, while others can find it challenging not to become overwhelmed with the situation and demonstrate signs of anger or disappointment.
There are many variables that can affect your reaction; the circumstance, your mood or the environment you’re in, to name just a few.
But, it’s important to consider the lasting effects that your reaction has on a child’s confidence and resilience to mistakes and failures in the future.
Focus on the Process and Not the Outcome
It’s very easy to focus on the results, rather than the work and determination that has been put into working towards the end goal.
Focusing purely on the finish, such as passing an exam, doesn’t give credit to the effort and time spent preparing for it. When a mistake is made, it’s best to acknowledge the effort your child has put into the lead up to the particular task, rather than focusing on the error made.
By doing so, you will also encourage the value of enjoying the process of a task rather than the reward gained from the completion of it.
Discuss What They Might Do Differently Next Time
As well as encouraging your child to process the mistake, discussing what they might do differently can help them when they come to tackle a similar situation.
Ask key questions
Asking key questions will open a conversation and allow them to consider the consequence or reasoning behind a particular action that may have led to the failure.
Your questions might include:
• What did you enjoy most?
• What didn’t you like?
• What aspect did you find the most challenging?
• What improvements would you make for next time?
• Why do you think it might have happened like that?
When asking questions, try not to focus on the loss, or the negative aspect of the mistake, and instead, encourage them to think about the future, and the satisfaction of doing, rather than failing.
Consider Your Child’s Reaction
How your child reacts to a mistake can be the deciding factor in how you respond to them. Are they content that they put their all into it and tried their best? Or are they angry that they hadn’t spent more time practising? Do they think their actions were suitable to the task at hand or are they showing signs of regret?
Whatever their reaction, either happy or disappointed, try to encourage them to focus their energy on the next time, rather than dwelling on what has already happened.
As children are still developing their skills and methods of managing their emotions, a mistake can become all-consuming.
If this seems to be the case with your child, a good practice is to provide them with a wider prospective, to help lead them away from becoming too focused on the negative of the situation.
Discuss times where you have made a mistake, and the ways you moved on from them. Reassure them, that mistakes help us to develop and learn, and are fundamental for our personal development.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
Angry, sad, disappointed, contempt or surprised – acknowledge how your child feels after the mistake has occurred and discuss with them why they may be feeling like this.
This encourages your child to consider how their actions have an effect on their feelings; a vital skill throughout their life.
Offer Comfort Rather than Pity
It can be easy to say things like, ‘I’m sorry that you didn’t win this time’ or ‘It must be hard for you’, despite the goodwill, these expressions show signs of pity, which can often imply to your child that they may not be capable of the task at hand.
Instead, acknowledge their effort in the lead-up, and discuss future attempts, reassuring them along the way of their capability.
Help Them Reach a Solution
Rather than stepping in to resolve the mistake on behalf of your child, discuss and show them ways that they may be able to fix it themselves. This could mean that together, you go through each step of the process, or as simple as discussing alternative ways for them to try.
Here at St Peter’s, a private school in Devon, we pride ourselves in helping to prepare your children for each stage and challenge in their life, whether it’s a mistake or a success.