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Learn How To Respond When Your Kids Make Mistakes

Are you or your children afraid of failure? Recent articles in the local media have highlighted how Singapore’s culture of fear may have hampered its progress in the digital era.

“The old kiasu mentality is no longer appropriate and a new approach is needed,” wrote Professor Michael Frese of the NUS Business School, in a column for The Straits Times. “Put another way, making mistakes is crucial for innovation. As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’ After all, trying new things is literally what innovation is about.”

Are you letting your children learn from their mistakes? Read on to find out how you can respond to mistakes without fear and judgement, in order to help your children grow

1. Ask yourself, is it really a mistake?

From shoes on the wrong feet or mismatched socks and clothing, to drawings and other creative works that look nothing like what they’re intended to portray—these may seem like “mistakes” to parents, but often, children have a different perspective or agenda.

Save your corrections, comments, and advice for the mistakes that matter—ones pertaining to safety and to your values. You should also point out actions that lead to consequences that may not be immediately seen or felt.

2. Teach your kids that mistakes are part of life.

Let your children see that everyone is prone to mistakes big and small, even adults and those in power. Let children know when you have made a mistake, and show them your thought process as you solve a problem. You can also tell them about the scrapes that you got into as a child or teenager, and how you faced the consequences.

More important, children should know that your love is unconditional, and that mistakes will not diminish your affection and respect for them. Be mindful that your children are also watching when you respond to the mistakes of those around you—for instance, are you impatient, rude, and unforgiving when you encounter poor service? Or do you try your best to show kindness and empathy even when you have been inconvenienced?

3. Where possible, refrain from lending help.

As hard as it is to sit back and do nothing, letting your children solve their own problems is the best way for them to learn and grow. (Click here for a list of mistakes that we should let every child make.)

For instance, if your reaction during a spill at the dinner table is to flare up while handling the cleanup effort yourself, you would only have taught your children to fear future accidents. Instead, make a habit of asking, “How would you like to fix this?” and “What would you do differently next time?”

If your child is facing a problem and approaches you for an answer, hold back and ask, “What do you think?” or “What have you tried?” This encourages your child to take responsibility for the problem—thinking up solutions is one way to gain confidence for tackling future problems.

4. Ask questions, instead of supplying answers.

When listening to your children talk about problems or tricky situations that they may have landed in, resist the temptation to offer your own interpretation of events, such as “Your friend may have blown up at you over something small, because she may have been harbouring hurt over something else.”

Instead, ask guiding questions to help your children reflect on troubling events in their lives, so that they can learn to identify mistakes and map out solutions for themselves. (For example, ask questions such as “Why do you think she responded in that way?” or “What else could she have been angry about?”) You would be empowering your children to face future challenges on their own.

5. Change your approach to schoolwork.

When reviewing your children’s homework assignments, or their test and exam papers, refrain from fixating on the scores. Instead, examine the mistakes that your children are making, and reinforce the message that mistakes are the best way to learn.

A strategy that has been shown to be particularly effective for maths, is to ask your child to explain how he or she got the wrong answer, before checking if they are aware of how to work towards the right answer in future. If you can get hold of other parents to share their children’s mistakes with your child as well, this may help create an environment where mistakes are viewed positively.  

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