Hello folks! Apologies for not blogging for a while. The summer holidays with two small people is really taking a hit on my laptop time. I’m pretty certain you can all empathise. However fortunately, although I am not able to cobble together enough sensible sentences in between shouting “no you can’t have another ice cream” and “stop licking your sisters dirty knees” at my wee bairns, another lovely Mum kindly has. Dr Joanne Riordan is a Mum of two and very, very soon to be (perhaps already!?) three. She’s an Educational Psychologist as well as an ex-teacher so she really knows her stuff. Although I’ve previously chatted about some of the themes she covers here on my socials, Dr Joanne gives it real meaning from a professional perspective. This is a truly helpful read.
Two Wrongs Can Be Alright: Helping Your Children Make Mistakes More Successfully
Even as adults, most of us do not like making mistakes. However, making mistakes can be particularly hard for young children to tolerate, and can leave them frustrated and in meltdown mode. What can happen over time, is that they avoid making mistakes by avoiding taking risks. However, new learning, particularly formal learning in a classroom, is all about taking risks and having a go when developing new skills. Therefore, one question I get frequently asked by parents is how to help their children tackle mistakes.
My name is Dr Joanne Riordan. I am the Director of Dr Joanne Ltd., which supports children from birth to the age of 18 years old to reach their full potential, and offers training to parents/carers and educational professionals. As well as my professional roles, I am a mum of 2 boys, with a third arriving very soon. Below, I give my 5 top tips for preventing mistakes from causing mayhem in your household.
Model your own mistakes
As someone in the tiring third trimester of pregnancy, I have plenty of day-to-day mistakes to model to my own children! It is important that we point out our mistakes and talk about how we are going to deal with these (which might be to do nothing at all). Pointing out our mistakes normalises the process, and demonstrates that we all regularly make mistakes. I am not suggesting discussing major life errors that you have made with your children. However, sharing small everyday mistakes (e.g. forgetting to buy something you went to the shops for, spelling a word incorrectly, turning up at the wrong time for a dentist appointment), are good teaching opportunities. When pointing out these errors, the main messages you want to get across are that firstly making mistakes are okay, and that secondly you have a choice about what to do next. For example, saying calmly “Mummy spelt ‘Isabel’s name with an extra ‘l’ and ‘e’ in her card. I am going to draw a balloon over the wrongly spelt name, and then just write it correctly underneath” or “I was a bit tired and forgot to buy the milk we need for later. I will ask Daddy to buy some on his way home”. By responding calmly, we are showing that mistakes do not automatically lead to a strong emotional reaction. By saying what we are going to do next, we are showing that we have choices in the situation.
Encourage children to take (reasonable) risks
Encourage your children to have a go on activities that are new or where they are unsure if they will succeed. Examples could include letting your toddler come down the slide at the playground independently for the first time or letting your 4-year-old order their drink in a cafe. Make sure you look excited for them and are full of encouragement (even if you are secretly taking a deep breath as the toddler comes down that slide!). This builds their confidence over time in taking small risks and managing mistakes.
Focus on praising your child’s effort
When a child is taking part in any activity, it is important to praise effort and the strategies your child uses. Do this as much as (and ideally more than) praising how they do on the task. This shows your children how important effort is, and that it is not all about completing a task or how they perform. Mistakes then seem less relevant, as your child can make mistakes whilst still feeling valued by themselves and others for the effort they are putting in.
For example, if you gave your child 4 crayons and asked them how many they had, and they responded “5”. Then you could respond with “Let’s count the crayons again together to check that answer. But I really liked that you put them carefully in a line to make them easier to count and that you pointed to each crayon as you counted it. Right, let’s count the crayons again together…”.
Play games, making silly mistakes with your child
Make light of mistakes with your child by doing making silly mistakes together in games. This shows them that mistakes can be fun and are not something to be feared.
Activities may include games such as:
- Making up funny new animal names for their farmyard toys and role playing a documentary about them, in CBeebies Andy’s Safari Adventures style.
- Drawing a picture together where the scene is all the wrong way round (e.g. the ground at the top and the Sun at the bottom, fish on the land etc.).
- Let them role-play being the teacher, and throw some funny mistakes in whilst doing what you are told.
If needed, reduce the risk for them
There may be specific activities that your child is really reluctant to have a go on, even after lots of encouragement. This is usually with activities that they are less confident with. If needed, adapt the activity, either by providing more help from yourself or adjusting the task to make mistakes less likely. Then over time, gradually reduce this support.
To illustrate this, my own pre-schooler does not like writing his name (even in fun situations), and worries about forming his letters incorrectly. Therefore, I draw out dots in the shape of the letters in his name for him to write over. Using this approach, he is much happier to have a go and is still practising forming the letters.
So those are my top 5 tips. I hope they enable your children to embrace mistakes more positively!
Dr Joanne (Independent Educational Psychologist)
Thanks so much to Dr Joanne for this useful perspective and for blogging for me despite being heavily pregnant. Teaching perseverance and guiding my kids in how to make errors and not having a total, world ending meltdown is top of my priorities! We wish you lucky with baby number three. FMM x