by Rachel Wells
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison
Mistakes are a part of life, and while it may not always feel like it, mistakes really are important. So why do we try to avoid them? It could be because when we make mistakes we experience some kind of pain, and our brains are wired to avoid pain. Or maybe we try to avoid mistakes simply because we are too afraid to fail. Whatever the reason may be, research has shown that mistakes are actually incredibly beneficial, in fact mistakes provide opportunities for deeper understanding and for our brains to acquire knowledge faster.
As teachers and parents, it’s so important to help children normalize making mistakes, and encourage children to develop a mindset that they aren’t going to be good at things right away, that mistakes are going to happen, and that that’s okay!
So why are mistakes important?
Mistakes are an opportunity to learn
Through trial and error people explore new ideas, expand what they know, change their mindset, and discover what works and what doesn’t. However none of this is possible without a willingness to learn from mistakes – without that, we lose countless opportunities to gain knowledge.
Mistakes encourage personal growth
Mistakes change a person’s way of thinking, while simultaneously helping them grow. Taking time to learn from mistakes makes a person more resilient, confident, and braver than before. Mistakes also encourage creative growth by forcing people to look for new solutions and think outside the box.
Mistakes make us more resilient
We can’t move forward if we stay in the same place. And while it may feel good to stay in our comfort zone, spending too much time there often leads to a lack of confidence when things don’t work the way we want them do.
Mistakes make life interesting
How boring would stories and movies be if the main character didn’t make a mistake? Just like in entertainment, your life would be pretty boring too if you never messed up. Mistakes put people in challenging situations, and while it may not be fun in the moment, looking back on the error may make a great story you can share with others later.
Mistakes are motivating
Mistakes show us that the more passionately we play, the more we get out of the game. Yes you may experience more screw-ups when you are less afraid to make mistakes, but getting back up and eventually coming to a solution is incredibly motivating for future endeavors.
How can we help encourage children to take mistakes and turn them into learning opportunities?
Encourage your child to try challenging activities and allow them fail
Whether your child is building a wobbly tower of Legos, or loses their next chess game – remember that it’s okay to let them fail. Failure leads to reflection, and this reflection leads to growth. When a child fails at something and has to make changes through trial and error they will acquire a deeper knowledge on the subject. It’s also important to keep in mind that the way we react to mistakes can make all the difference as to whether a child continues to put in effort or give up.
Provide lots of hands-on learning opportunities
Children develop a deeper understanding by actually doing the activity, messing up, reflecting on it, and figuring out ways to make it better.
Use encouraging phrases
The next time you see your child struggling with making mistakes, encourage them with one of these phrases which may help change their mindset:
“Let’s try this another way.”
“Keep trying, don’t give up!”
“Be kind to yourself when you’re confused.”
“I see your strengths, and I believe in you.”
“Even though this is tough, you will figure out a way.”
“I’m so proud of the effort you put into this.”
“It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just that you can’t do it YET.”
Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time didn’t make the varsity high school basketball team on his first try, Walt Disney was fired from a job at a newspaper early in his career because they thought he lacked imagination, and Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times. All of these well-known people failed, but they used their mistakes to push themselves forward. Encourage your child to do the same and it will only help them out in the long run.