Spilled milk. Mismatched socks. Incorrectly completed homework. From the time they are very young, children begin making mistakes. As a parent, you know what that means: messes, chaos, and a host of other inconveniences.
If you are like many parents, you’d rather not deal with the ramifications of your child’s mistakes. You take on the role of Mistake Preventer in Chief, hovering nearby and ensuring nothing goes wrong. This laughable habit is very popular among today’s parents. Proof? The global spill-proof cup market is set to hit $6.8 billion dollars this year. The numbers don’t lie and the conclusion is obvious: many, many parents don’t want spills.
When it comes to recent parenting trends, the spill-proof-cup phenomenon is just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s loving parents want to protect their kids from all forms of discomfort, including their own mistakes. This mindset gives birth to highly protective parenting practices. Parents change their children’s mismatched socks to prevent embarrassment, bring forgotten lunches to school, and micromanage the homework process so that every little Einstein gets every answer correct.
But how bad are mistakes, really? According to a recent article published in Psychology Today, not bad at all! In fact, those “oops” moments actually improve children’s learning in many ways. “Making mistakes is part of how kids are challenged to learn to do things differently,” writes Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D, “It motivates them to try new approaches.”
Allowing mistakes to happen opens the door to new learning opportunities. When children make mistakes they can then acknowledge them and focus on solutions. They develop a healthy sense of self and learn skills that prepare them for real life. Simply put, mistakes are an essential part of growing up.
In their work How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk authors Faber & Mazlish describe the need for parents to “respect the struggle” and allow children to attempt challenging tasks. Instead of swooping in to rescue the child, the authors recommend that parents take a hands-off approach while vocally validating the child’s struggle. Parents can also offer helpful insights that respect the child’s ability to solve the problem:
|Child’s Struggle||Parental Validation||Respectful Insights|
|A seven-year-old tying his own laces,
|“Those laces can sure be tricky!”||“Maybe it helps to start with the bunny-ears first.”|
|A six-year-old brushing knots out of her hair.
|“Ouch. I see it’s hurting you when the brush gets stuck in the knots.”||“We have some no-more-tangle spray upstairs.”|
|A young child putting on her own socks.||“Those silly socks! They keep getting away from your feet!”||“Stretching them nice and wide leaves enough room for your feet to get in.”|
No parent will be able to take this approach all the time. After all, the school bus won’t wait for validation, and some kids are just not ready to put on their socks independently! Whenever you can practice it, this approach will help your child learn to tolerate frustration, try new approaches, and persevere in the face of adversity.
In today’s world of highly protective parenting, allowing your child to make mistakes and learn from them can feel like swimming upstream. At the same time, you’ll know that you are not only a good parent, but a great one. You are giving your child the biggest gift of all: the opportunity to learn.