Making Mistakes

Getting Good at Making Mistakes: Developing a Growth Mindset

Some people will do anything to avoid making a mistake. They may decide not to embrace a challenge, for fear of failing or making a mistake, or they may spend tons of time and energy working towards a perfect product. Often times, these people are described as “perfectionists” and many of them experience a significant amount of anxiety throughout the day. Some kids who fit this profile tend to try to be very, very good in school and around “outsiders,” but struggle to contain their frustration at home. Other kids erupt at the slightest challenge, lashing out at others and giving up. Parents can help their kids learn to accept that making mistakes is not the end of the world through developing a growth mindset.

Growth mindset is a concept initially discussed by psychologist Carol Dweck and refers to the belief that abilities can grow through practice, hardwork, and perseverance.  The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which refers to the belief that you’ve either “got it” or you don’t. For those with a fixed mindset, attempting a challenge and not succeeding right away could threaten your standing as someone who is “smart,” “athletic” or “perfect.”  Those with a growth mindset almost expect that they may make some mistakes until they figure it out. Mistakes and struggles are not seen as roadblocks, rather they are stepping stones to progress and growth. To foster a growth mindset in your children, try the following strategies.

The Power of Yet

When your child is struggling with mastering a new skill, find ways to pepper your feedback with the word, “yet.” If, for example, your child is scared to swim on their own, casually comment, “oh yeah, you’re not quite comfortable with that yet.” Using the word yet implies that they will eventually be able to figure it out.  

Praise Wisely

Avoid praising talents, skills, intelligence, and outcomes.  Focus instead on praising the process. When you notice your child persevering in the face of a challenge, say, “I love how you stuck with that!” If your child makes a mistake and then makes a correction, state, “you really kept trying different ways to make that work.  That’s really cool.” When parents praise a skill, talent, or intelligence (i.e., “you’re so smart!”), they might be accidentally sending the message, “I think you’re really smart but if you can’t figure that out, maybe I was wrong. Maybe you’re not that smart, after all.”

Allow Time and Space

Remember that some kids need a little time and space to work some of this out privately, when they don’t feel “on stage.” Think about how your child has approached mastering other new tasks. Maybe she took a long time to try walking, but once she did, she had it pretty well mastered (no toddling around for her). Or maybe he hangs out on the sidelines watching everyone else try before he attempts it on his own. See if your child benefits from watching videos of kids learning to swim or go ahead and let him sit on the steps at the pool watching all the other kids swim around a bit. Don’t mistake hesitancy to try something as avoiding the task. It may be a part of your child’s process. Backup and allow your child to experiment and try it out on their own timeline within their comfort zone.

Below are some great children’s books that explore the beauty in making mistakes. Read them with your child or leave them out for your child to read on their own. Older kids and teens still sometimes enjoy picture books, too. Giving a book with a meaningful message to convey that you’re proud of them for going through the struggle, and being open to making mistakes, can provide a lot of support to an unsure teen.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

What To Do When Mistakes Make You Quake by Claire Freeland and Jacqueline Toner


Posted in Articles, Parenting, School-Aged Children, Teens.