How to Respond When Kids Make Mistakes So They’ll Try Again..and Again…

by | Dec 19, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Q My child hates to make a mistake, and if he does he’s just devastated. I’ve probably not done the best job of responding. How should I help my son bounce back? Dania M from Bolder Colorado

Of course we want our kids to succeed. And how we hate it when they fail. But the truth is life isn’t a bed of roses. Our kids will fail and suffer disappointments. An important parenting secret is helping our children learn how to bounce back from defeat and disappointments, and how we respond when they do does make a difference in how they learn to cope. Unfortunately all too many kids cut short their opportunities for success because they give up at the first sign of difficulty. If they see errors as indications that they are failures, eventually they are likely to stop trying. So one of the most common questions parents ask is: “What’s the best way to respond when my child makes a mistake?”

Here are nine, noncritical ways to respond to your child’s error from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. (The most important and often toughest to really do parenting solution is the one listed ninth.)

1. Offer support only when needed — “I’m here for you if you need help” — but avoid the temptation to do the task for your child. Your child needs to build confidence that he can figure out the problem for himself.

2. Help your child see that mistakes are chances to learn. Ask, “What did you learn so that you won’t make the same mistake again?”

3. Stay nonjudgmental and help your child focus on what she’s trying to achieve. Don’t criticize, but do calmly ask, “How did you want this to turn out?”

4. Help your child recognize that you believe he can succeed in his efforts. Say, “I know you can do it. Hang in there.”

5. Fight the temptation to say, “I knew that would happen” or “I told you so.” Instead try saying, “That’s interesting” or “That wasn’t what you had in mind, was it?”

6. Let your child watch you do the task again and again. Some children need to learn “by seeing” how to do the task correctly instead of hearing you tell them how to do it right.

7. Don’t yell, shame, criticize, judge, blame, or ridicule. Nobody (especially children!) likes to make mistakes, and everybody hates to be reminded of making them.

8. Teach your child an affirmation to bounce back. Select one phrase such as–“It doesn’t have to be perfect.” or “It’s OK to make a mistake.” or “Everybody makes mistakes.”–and then help your child practice saying it out loud several times for a few days. The more often she sees and hears it, the greater the chance she will remember to use it to encourage her to bounce back when she errors.

9. Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm! I know that sounds easier than it is, but the truth is our kids are watching our responses. How we act when our kids fail is often more important than what we say. So take a deep breath, Mom. See that failure as a learning opportunity.

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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Refer to the chapters on Perseverance, Gives Up, Perfectionism, or Poor Sport for more specific solutions on this topic.