How to Help Our Children Be OK with Making Mistakes—and Why It’s Ultimately Worth It
(Hint: it’s not all on them.)
The idea that I might be someone who “over-parents” her children came to me not while I was spending time with my children, but when I was catching up over dinner with two of my closest college friends, who are also moms. Having not seen them in over a year, we dived into conversation, but I soon found myself utterly distracted by a glass of water, perched precariously by my friend’s elbow at the edge of the table. Before even a minute could pass, I grabbed the glass and moved it to the center of the table—a move that only a friend who has known you for almost twenty years could rightfully call you out on. “Jen, if you keep doing things like that, I’ll never learn.” We all started laughing, but deep inside, I began to wonder, “why did I feel the need to do that?”
Expectations for our children are more mapped out than ever before. Even before birth, parents can go to any website to see what their baby looks like at every week of its gestation. Once a child is born, you then have milestones to reach at one-, two-, three-years-old and so on. This strengthens as our children enter school and begin to take tests. And after elementary and middle school, so begins a pathway filled with milestone after milestone as they march toward high school, college, and their careers.
This is not to say that expectations and timelines aren’t necessary. They play the critical role of helping us track the mental and physical development of our children, and help us identify both when and where our kids may need help.
However, by exposing our children to these expectations and milestones at every turn, do we encourage them to value the idea of “getting things right” over skills such as critical thinking, strategy development, and independent decision-making? In doing so, do we take away their right to make mistakes freely, to learn that life is far from perfect—and that this is OK?
It’s important for us to embrace the idea of student achievement, and to give all children the support they need to do the best they can at every stage of learning. Ultimately, we want our children to do well, succeed in school, and enjoy fulfilling careers. So, how can we as parents and guardians empower our children to achieve, but at the same time embrace the idea of a learning “journey”?
Let’s start by debunking the idea that achievement equals perfection. The path to student achievement is not just a great test score—it’s learning and understanding the concepts and strategies that go into getting the right answer. By encouraging our kids to enjoy the process of learning (and not just the end result) we aim to create a mentality that encourages them to be lifelong learners.
Next, let’s be aware of when our kids start to believe that they’re naturally “good” or “bad” at something. According to Carol Dweck, the psychologist who developed the idea of the growth mindset, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Adopting a growth mindset helps kids avoid becoming discouraged when things seem difficult, and helps them to appreciate the great things perseverance can lead to.
Education technology can also help. Unlike parents who may find it difficult to resist the urge to correct their kids when they’re about to jot down the wrong answer, technology is both objective and data driven, and can encourage children to learn from their mistakes, rather than simply correcting them. Good edtech solutions continuously assess where kids are at, encourage them to persist and experience productive struggle, and adapt to their right level of learning, providing the right support when needed.
Finally, as hard as it is, we as parents must not take our kids’ mistakes personally—these mistakes aren’t ours and neither are our kids’ learning journeys. In the end, we all do our best—which is hardly ever perfect, but is almost always good enough.
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