Learning from Mistakes: The Upside

The Concerns about Mistakes

Parents often jump through hoops to prevent their children from making mistakes or quickly jump in to bail them out when they do make them. They may fear that their children will:
mistakes misspelled

  • fail

  • not meet obligations

  • become irresponsible

  • be judged as incompetent

  • feel badly about themselves

  • be embarrassed

  • lose confidence in their abilities

  • not get good grades, not get into the “highest” honors, not go to a good school, and not live up to their “potential.” Wow all that, from a forgotten homework assignment!

Underlying these concerns are parents’ wishes for their children to be perfect. They also want to be able to protect their kids from the unpleasant feelings that come with having goofed up.

Well, Parents, worry no more! The good news is that making mistakes is actually good for your kids! How could it be that forgetting something, failing to meet an obligation, or being less than perfect can be a positive experience?

A Useful “Oops” – Learning from Mistakes

If the message in your home is that mistakes can be opportunities to learn, then valuable lifelong lessons can be taught to your kids when they mess up. They can learn that:

  • making errors is a part of life,

  • they can survive mistakes rather than be crushed by them,

  • they don’t have to be perfect,

  • they can “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.”

These attitudes describe resilient kids who do not give up when the going gets rough and who do not crumble when they don’t succeed. They are not too fragile to handle the up’s and down’s of life and don’t feel defeated when they make an error. Instead they face their mistakes and strive to do better next time.

Don’t “Rescue” Your Kids

life buoy
It can be hard to see your kids struggle or watch them act irresponsibly. It may feel that you are leaving them to face the negative results of their poor judgement alone.

How can you not “bail them out” or try to fix the problem for them?

Actually, by allowing them to suffer the natural consequences of their decisions while they are still young and living in your home, you can be there to help them deal with the fall-out.

You can be a support behind the scenes to help them learn from the situation and find ways to avoid the same problem in the future.

Take the following examples:

If your 12 year-old forgets to bring his homework to school 3 days in a row, rather than rush to deliver it, you can let him face whatever negative result occurs.

He may learn then to plan ahead so that he does not forget next time. You can ask him what he can do to remember and also check with him about whether there is anything you could do to help him remember.

If your 6-year old leaves his game on the floor and it gets broken, rather than rush to buy another one, let him live without the game and learn that he needs to take care of his possessions.

You can empathize with his loss and talk with him about how he can better store his toys when he is done playing with them.


Build Trust in Their Judgment

By allowing your children to make a mistake and then to fix it, you will both know that they have the skills and judgment to deal with the problem if it occurs again. Only when kids confront the same situation and make a different choice on their own can you trust their judgment. If you keep them from repeating the same mistake, you also keep them from showing any maturity.

And sometimes, they may not learn the lesson all at once. They may need to have the same negative outcome multiple times before they choose to approach the situation differently.

For example, a middle-schooler may need to leave several school projects until the last minute and have to stay up late at night before he realizes that he needs to plan his time better.


Life is a Learning Laboratory

More good news: you don’t have to go out of your way to make sure that your kids have those difficult and humbling “learning experiences”.

In the course of everyday life, your children will have many opportunities to face the consequences of their errors because “kids will be kids” – they lack judgement and they will make mistakes. Life can help you to teach them better judgement if you don’t protect them all the time from the natural consequences of their behavior.

You can help your children adopt the attitude that mistakes are for learning by modeling that approach:

  • Be forgiving of yourself when you mess up.

  • Let them know that you are not perfect and that you use your mistakes as opportunities to reflect on how you can do better the next time.

  • Be forgiving of them when they make mistakes.


So parents: you can relax a little bit, allow your kids the opportunity to grow and learn from errors and mis-judgements. Through the discomfort that often comes with their mis-steps, they can learn to cope with life’s inevitable challenges and gain confidence as they do so.


Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Education


For more information about self-esteem, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Perfectionism: What's Bad about Being Too Good by Adderholdt Hearing is Believing by Elisa Medhus Self-Esteem: A Family Affair by Jean Illsley Clarke How Children Succedd: Grit, Curiousity and the Hidden Power of Character by Tough

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