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Helping Children Learn from Their Mistakes

Benefits of learning from mistakes:

There are countless ways that parents help nurture, comfort, support & teach their child from the minute they are born. Despite how they test our every patience, we love them unconditionally as we guide their development from helping them to walk and talk; from learning the alphabet; to making friends. We cheer from the sidelines during sporting events and celebrate all their moments of great success and learning. Along the long, and at times wobbly path of parenting, there are challenging moments for both parent and child, as there are times when they need to make a mistake to receive the learning that, that will provide.

As a parent, it only seems natural that we don’t want our children to ever experience sadness or pain, but that isn’t realistic. At times, letting a child learn from a mistake can build valuable life skills such as problem solving, social and communication skills, and resilience. Each of these being important building blocks for raising a confident and capable young adult.

Understanding resilience:

Research has demonstrated that some children develop strong resilience, that being the ability to overcome serious hardship, while other children don’t develop resilience as readily. Understanding why and how some children are more able or likely to develop their resilience is important in being able to support children and assist them in developing to their full potential. Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child explains that one way to understand a child’s development of resilience is to imagine a scale or seesaw, with protective experiences and coping skills on one side and adverse experiences on the other. The development of resilience takes place when there are greater positive experiences to counterbalance the negative. An important factor in children developing a positive sense of self and their resiliency is through having at least one supportive relationship (either parent, carer or other supportive adult). Within this relationship, the child experiences caring responsivity, scaffolding to their emotional regulation, and at times a protective buffer to hardships. As children experience this support themselves, they are learning adaptive skill-building.

In conjunction with a supportive relationship, biological make-up is also an important factor in combination. Neither biology or social supports alone will be completely protective when encountering prolonged stress or toxicity. Continuing with the idea of a balanced scale of positive and negative factors, by “stacking” the positive side of the scale, it is hoped that an individual is better able to cope with adversity across contexts and experiences (e.g. from the classroom or sibling conflict). In building the foundations to strong resiliency, important relational and emotional factors include:

  • positive sense of self;

  • strong and supportive relationships;

  • perceived self-control and self-agency;

  • opportunities to strengthen adaptive life skills and self-regulation; and

  • encouraging engagement in cultural traditions and enhancing their sources of hope or faith.

Learning from life’s little lessons: When children are given an opportunity to extend themselves and their current skills, trial new activities or bravely move beyond their current comfort zone, then are afforded valuable learning opportunities. Within these experiences, they have the opportunity to develop important social and emotional skills.

With caregivers in a role of guidance, a child may have greater the confidence to learn for themselves and build new skills. Often during times of challenge, children are able to develop their problem solving, coping skills and as such their resilience. All of which are more like muscles that need regular workouts to develop their strength. Learning opportunities:

  • When asking questions or for help: Parents can support their child’s growth by asking what their thoughts are on a topic, and what they have already tried to solve their problem. This can also help you to know where to begin with your support.

  • When something is wrong: Whether it be sibling rivalry or poor choice, rather than providing instructions on how to solve the problem, start with asking a question or two: “How do you think your brother feels now?”, or “Why do you think he feels that way?”. Then assist your child with reflecting on their behaviour and choices. While this does take time, it provides a child with a learning opportunity to develop their communication skills, confidence and emerging moral skills.

  • When your child’s performance is below their expectations: Whether it be within school, sport or other extra-curricular activity, a child will experience disappointments and failures. Rather than focusing on a set indicator of success or failure (e.g. such as a school grade); rather reflect on what they did achieve, what they have learnt, and how they have grown. Reflecting on their areas of personal growth are more encouraging.

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