Yay for Mistakes! Part 3, Responding to Our Children’s Mistakes

Many of us are afraid of making mistakes because we associate making mistakes with something bad. Something to be avoided at all costs.

I developed this attitude as a child. I lived in fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Of making a mistake and people not liking me. Of embarrassing myself. Of my pride being hurt. And worst of all, of not being loved.

It took years to realize that I was not my mistakes. That my worth was not dependent on what I did or did not do. It took making lots of mistakes to see that making mistakes is a natural part of learning, living, and being human. I had to learn to quit beating myself up and quit equating mistakes with sin. Over time, I began to start seeing mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Remember it is not the mistakes that matter, it is what we do after our mistakes that is important.

As a parent, I want my children to have a better life than I had. I also want my children to not be afraid of making mistakes. I want them to be able to stand up and yell, “Yay for mistakes.”

So how can we give our children the freedom to make mistakes, teach our children that it is alright to make mistakes, and show them how to learn from their mistakes?

First, we need to start being role models We need to quit beating ourselves up for our own mistakes, and instead learn from them. Laugh at them.

When we talk about our mistakes and what we learned from them, we are showing our children how to approach their own mistakes. When we laugh at our mistakes and not let them ruin our day, we are communicating that mistakes don’t have a lot of power over us and that it is alright to make mistakes.

Here are some things I am trying to teach my children about making mistakes:

Making mistakes is a normal part of life and learning.

A toddler can’t learn to walk without falling a lot of times. An artist will have to draw hundreds of hands before they master drawing them. No one can learn to play the piano without hitting a plethora of bad notes. The first attempt at cleaning the toilet will not be the best. A first interview is often like a bad movie and lingers for a while.

When our children start beating themselves up after a mistake, remind them that they need to make a lot of mistakes to learn something. Remind them that mistakes are a big part of learning.

Sometimes I just shout, “Yay for mistakes!” Yes, it seems silly, but the point is to break the mood. Maybe we start giggling. The point is to remind them that mistakes don’t have to be these serious things we need to be afraid of. Mistake are evidence of trying.

It must be sinking in because sometimes when I make a mistake, my children will remind me that it is all part of learning and it is alright. “You just pulled a Theresa,” they say.

Is it a mistake or lack of knowledge?

Sometimes we get more upset when we make a mistake doing something we know we are good at than when we make a mistake at something we are not good at.

I have a child that is great at math, but can get frustrated when he gets a problem wrong. I like to say, “Yay! A learning opportunity! Now let’s put our detective hats on and discover where the mistake is.”

We both look at the problem and either he will find it or I will. Often it is a silly mistake, a step inverted or forgotten, and I will say, “Oh, look at this silly mistake. You inverted the steps. Silly you.” On a good day, he will see it and we both laugh. “You know how to do this problem, you just made a silly mistake,” I say.

He corrects his problem and off we go.

Sometimes he makes the mistake because he doesn’t know how to do the problem. Then I say, “Great! An opportunity to learn. How exciting!” And then I figure out what he doesn’t understand and reteach him.

Now this may seem silly, but it works in our house and communicates to him that mistakes are alright in school work. In fact, I will remind him that when we make mistakes and correct them, we have less chance of making the mistake in the future.

How many of us got a word wrong in a spelling bee and when we heard the correct spelling we kicked ourselves in the brain? But the thing is, we have never forgotten how to spell that word again. Realizing our mistakes and correcting our mistakes cements that learning into our minds.

That is what life is about – learning. That is what school is about – learning. If you are learning, then you are on the right track and doing what you are supposed to be doing. No matter how many tries it takes. No matter how long it takes.

Ask what they can learn from their mistake.

If your child comes home disappointed because they received a C on the last science test, now is the time to ask a question or two, not jump on them for their low grade. Asking, “Why do you think you got a C?” gets the child thinking about what they can learn from their mistake and then do differently. It also gives them power to change the future.

Maybe your child doesn’t know why they got a D. Throw out some questions. Did they think they were prepared? Were they especially nervous? Had they read the chapter? What did the other students get?

When your child identifies the reason and takes responsibility, this empowers them to focus on the future. We can’t change the past, only the future. This is why lecturing, guilting, and shaming don’t work.

If your child confesses they didn’t study, then say, “If you want a better grade next time you know that studying will help. Let me know if I can help you study for your next test.”

Praise them for trying and doing their best. [Not for being perfect.]

No one is perfect or can perform at a high level forever. Don’t just praise your child for getting A’s or winning an award. Instead, praise them for doing their best. For trying. For their perseverance. For their good attitude. For not losing their temper when it gets hard.

When my children feel bad about something, I ask, “Did you try? Did you do your best? Then quit beating yourself up. Your dad and I only ask that you try and do your best.”

If they didn’t do their best, then remind him there is a next time and ask what they can do to improve next time. The whole goal is to get them to learn from the experience.

Focus on what happens after the experience more than the experience itself.

Our children can get disappointed when they mess up. Remind them of what is most important.

One morning my son was lamenting about a back and forth exchange with his dad. I reminded him that it was more important what he did now, than their earlier word tussle. If he could admit his part, do the right thing now, and learn what to do and not do before the next time he and his dad went at it, then it will have been a valuable experience.

Grace and understanding go a long way.

Teach your children to forgive themselves and spread grace on their wounds. Remind them that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone.

If they are beating themselves up, ask them what advice they would give their best friend if they did what they did. This may show them that they are holding themselves to a higher standard than they are their friends.

Try different methods.

Say your child is making mistakes in forgetting to do their chores. Brainstorm with them ideas to help them remember. Pictures on their bathroom mirror. A chore chart on the fridge. It takes more time on my part, but if I make a list of tasks, the success rate jumps much higher at my house than when I just bark out tasks.

Asking their opinion about what would help them succeed, gives your child power and helps them learn about themselves. Are they a list maker? Does setting a timer and playing rousing music help cleaning go quicker? Perhaps listening to a book on tape helps them not get sidetracked in a chore.

Figure out how their brain is wired and discover their learning style.

Communicate unconditional love.

Remind them again and again that their mistakes do not determine their worth. Their day. Or even how much you love them.

Communicating to our children that mistakes are just a part of life and another way to learn is an ongoing process, but think of the rewards.

Our children may not be as afraid of making a mistake as most of us are.

Join the Discussion: How do you help your children deal with their mistakes?


Previous articles in this series:

To read part 1 of the Yay for Mistakes! What do You Do?
To read part 2 of Yay for Mistakes! How to Respond

Accompanying this series, Life as it Comes, a story podcast, takes a humorous look at making mistakes in episode 31, “Have You Pulled a Theresa?” 

Stay tuned! (or subscribe and join the journey) Next week, part 4.


Linking up at Jennifer Dukes Lee (#tellhisstory); and Holley Gerth (#coffeeforyourheart)

Twinkling Mom

I am guest posting at Kindred Mom today.

Twinkling Mom

Christian stamps his foot hard against the tile floor, imitating his mother’s Irish dancing. He stamps three times in a row and laughs, proud of his accomplishment and the sound reverberating through the air.

Sure, I taught him those complicated dance moves, to eat with a spoon, say please, grunt when lifting, and scoot backwards down the stairs, but during our 21 months together he’s taught me things much more valuable. Because of his toddler tutelage, I have a brighter motherly shine.

He teaches me new ways to love. From the time I discovered that I was growing a baby, I began loving him sight unseen. That love has only grown. His easy smile and charming personality make me want to wrap him in a hug and kiss his fuzzy head, even if he has just colored my kitchen table or spilled the jar of peanuts on the floor. Overflowing with motherly love, I sacrifice my daily desires. What I receive is unmeasurable. The way Christian says, “Momma.” How he kisses my hand and face. When he tugs on my leg so that I bend down and he hugs my cares away. The bottom line is he loves me back. It is not because of what I accomplish–my clean floor, healthy baby lunches, or combed hair–but because I am his mother.

He teaches me to relax and have fun. As a baby, Christian would burst out laughing for no obvious reason. As I began noticing how often he laughed, as opposed to the relatively few times a day I laughed, silliness became a conscious part of each day. We sing crazy songs. Squat and study ants. Shout silly sounds and words. Zoom cars across the floor. To his delight, even place his pants on his head.

He teaches me loyalty. He loves me even when I am gloomy, having a hectic day, or have yelled at him. Christian may look upwards with a confused look and big tears clouding his vision when I disappoint him, but he loyally returns for me to kiss his ouchies, play with him in the bath, and feed him ice cream. He refuses to allow disappointments or anger to cloud his faithfulness and devotion to me his mother.

He teaches me to grow in new and different ways. I now am almost bilingual, fluent in baby talk and interpreting urgent grunts and points. I am a master in removing burp and poop stains, a pro at sleep walking through mid-night nursings, and changing the diaper and clothes of a squirmy child is no longer a challenge. I am learning to live in the moment and enjoy our time together.

He teaches me to have faith in myself as a mother and faith in God. Christian looks to me to work things out. And despite my motherhood induced worries, guilt, and failures, I view Christian as a precious miracle entrusted by God to my husband and me. This clarity strengthens my faith in God, who promises to guide me through every moment of this huge on-the-site training program called parenting.

This first posted at Kindred Mom, a site that was created to help mothers flourish.

Yay for Mistakes! Part 2, How to Respond

This is part two of a series on ‘making mistakes and what do you do?’ Read part 1 here.

Accompanying this series, Life as it Comes, a story podcast, takes a humorous look at making mistakes in episode 31, “Have You Pulled a Theresa?” 


Mistakes happen. Everyday. All the time.

Live long enough and you’ll make some. Try something new and you will make mistakes.

Ever try to learn to play basketball and not make mistakes? Ride a bike? Bake a three-layer chocolate cake? Write calligraphy? Perform some math? Practice the piano? Give a speech?

We cannot learn something new and not make mistakes.

Ever try to multi task? Cook dinner and talk on the phone? Maybe that isn’t too hard, but throw in a few whiny children and a dog whimpering at the door and the chances that you will make a mistake shots up exponentially.

Get busy, distracted, or survive on little sleep, and mistakes happen at an even faster rate.

The problem is we are not machines. We are not perfect, try as we might. We are humans and humans make mistakes. Without meaning to. Without trying to.

How do you respond when you make a mistake? Do you do these harmful things? 

How should we respond?

How can we give ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and then use them to our advantage?

First of all, remember that making a mistake is not the end of the world. At least not as we know it. The earth keeps spinning and the stock market keeps going up and down.

Making a mistake just means we are human. We are in good company because all the other people in the world are human too and can relate to and have made mistakes. We are only acting as a human should and will act.

This is important to remember when we make a mistake. We are no different from all the other billion people on earth. We are all mistake makers. Plain and simple.

No one alive has not accidentally forgotten something important, botched a task, said the wrong thing, failed to notice something or someone, given the wrong answer, selected the wrong choice, or carelessly tripped over their own feet.

It is not that we make mistakes that matters, it is what we do after we make a mistake that matters.

So, what can we do when we accidentally make a mistake?

Let’s pretend we turn around quickly and spill wine down the front of someone’s dress shirt. A simple mistake that embarrasses us and affects someone else.

1.Take responsibility. Plain and simple, accept responsibility and admit you made a mistake. (I’m sorry I spilled wine down the front of your pristine white shirt.)

Admitting our mistakes can be hard, but it is necessary (and it gets easier with practice and time). This the other person who your mistake affects that you are human and it acknowledges that your mistake is affecting them in some manner.

The last thing we want to do is blame them. (What are you doing standing so close to me. Now look what you made me do!) Blaming them makes them feel powerless and degraded and often causes them to retaliate in anger.

It is not their fault, we made the mistake. Take responsibility and admit you are human.

The funny thing is, when we admit we made a mistake, the other person often responds with graciousness and kindness, or at least a little understanding because they know they are also human and they can empathize with your mistake.

And if they are not gracious? Remember you are only in charge of your own responses and actions. They can choose how they will act and respond because they are in charge of their own actions and responses.

2. Figure out if there is a way to fix or solve the mistake. (Can I get you a clean shirt to wear while I treat that stain?)

This is not the time or place to beat yourself up, lecture yourself, or call yourself names. None of which are helpful or solve the problem.

Sometimes there is something you can do, and sometimes there is nothing to do. If you burn dinner, you can throw together some sandwiches. If you step on someone’s foot, you can’t do much more than apologize. Apologizing won’t take away the stiletto heal indentation in their foot, but it does acknowledge their pain and your part in their pain.

3. Ask yourself if there is a way to keep from making the same mistake again. (Maybe not turn around quickly when in a crowded room. Especially when holding a glass of wine.)

Brainstorm about what could you do differently. What can you do in the future to not make the same mistake again?

Once again, this is not the time to whine and bemoan and send yourself on a guilt trip to make yourself and all those around you miserable. Going down that path is not healthy for you or others and it does not solve the problem or address the issue.

Sure, you messed up. Now get back up, dust your knees free of the dust, and forgive yourself and sprinkle some grace on yourself. That is what you would do for your best friend. And vice versa.

Figuring out ways to keep from making the same mistake again, empowers you and puts you in charge of your actions and reactions.

If you back out of the garage before the door is fully risen, you can make a mental note to yourself to double check that the whole door is raised past the car height before turning the car on.

4. Ask if you made the mistake on accident or because you don’t know how to do something. (Spilling the wine was clearly an accident. You can usually walk across a room without a mishap.)

Sometimes we make a mistake in math because we fail to carry our tens when adding double digits, and other times we make a mistake because we don’t know how to figure out the volume of a hexagon. Both are mistakes. One comes from not remembering to do a step and is just a silly mistake; the other comes from not knowing how to do the task.

If it was an accident, no big deal. If it was because you don’t know how to do something, then figure out if you want to learn and solve that deficit. Either way, don’t beat yourself up.

5. Ask what you can learn from your mistake. (Be careful in crowds of people, especially when carrying liquid. Or maybe you have an ah-ha moment and realize you are prone to make big hand movement when you are excited.)

Our mistakes are never wasted when we try and learn from them.

Remember Edison and all the times he tried to figure out what material to use as the filament of the light bulb? He looked at each failure as narrowing down the list of materials that would work.

Look at your mistakes as steps in learning. Learning more about yourself, others, the world, how things work and don’t work.

Learning from our mistakes turns them to our advantage. Learning effects the future positively.

When we show up to the dentist a week early we can remember to look at the calendar before setting out for an appointment next time. When our speech flops because we were not prepared, we can make sure we start planning earlier next time.

Isn’t life just one learning curve? We are here to learn. Learning from our mistakes puts us in the seat of power and helps us feel empowered. We can’t eliminate mistakes from our life, but we can learn from them and adjust our behavior and make the same ones less and less.

Give yourself the power to make mistakes and learn from them. When we do this, it is easy to yell, “Yah for mistakes!” because that means we are growing and learning from our humanness. We are improving and bettering our self.

6. Find the humor in your mistakes. If we can smile and perhaps laugh at our mistakes, now or ten weeks later, it diffuses a lot of ill will, guilt, and anger we can direct at our self because of our mistakes.

Who knows. Maybe that mistake will turn into a funny story of accidentally pouring wine down the front of someone’s shirt during your St. Patty’s party.

When we can laugh at our mistakes, we are letting others know it is alright to be human and also make mistakes. When we laugh at our self and others laugh along, it is easier to show compassion and understanding to our self. And when others hear our story, they are more likely to show compassion and understanding to others in the same situation. In the process, we are understanding ourselves and others better.

Next time you make a mistake, use it to your advantage.

Next week part 3 in this series. How to respond to the mistakes of our children?

Join the Discussion: What are your tips for responding to mistakes?


Linking up at Jennifer Dukes Lee (#tellhisstory); and Holley Gerth (#coffeeforyourheart)