“Oops, sorry,” And “uh-oh” seem to be two very common words in a child’s vocabulary. In fact, “uh-oh” was in the “top ten” of first words spoken for each of my children. It was my nephew’s first word, which he mastered at only eight months.
I thought it interesting how children are so aware of when they make mistakes and blunders—which are such a common part of childhood. Children strongly sense our acceptance and approval because it is a need for them to feel accepted and loved; they also recognize the lack of those, especially when they make mistakes.
It’s easy to get frustrated when the same child has made the same mistake, yet again! However, we have to understand that our reactions to their mistakes will develop into their reactions at their mistakes. If we view childish blunders as “the end of the world”, or respond sharply or angrily, they will learn to fear mistakes, and will grow with a mistaken view of that state called “mistake”.
When we do something wrong, we usually hope no one noticed, and we jump at the chance to start again and do it right the next time around. How much more so should we give our kids the chance to try again, without judgment or labeling?
As a child, I was freaked out about making mistakes and screwing things up. I remember one summer when we went for a weekend camping trip. We were at a table with some friends we had made in a room with 50+ other tables, all full of vacationers. I knocked over my glass of orange juice and it spilled on my new friend’s plate of food. No one even reacted strongly or harshly but I was so mortified that I began to cry and it took me a few minutes to compose myself. I can’t remember how I first developed such a fear of mistakes, but it was deeply ingrained. As a teen, my perception slowly changed and grew into the fact that mistakes can be learning experiences and failures can be stepping stones to greater things.
When I became a mother, I hoped my children would never have that same fear of “failure”, but would have a healthier perception of it. I tried to encourage them and adopted a simple saying in our household of, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”
We had visitors over for dinner one evening when the inevitable happened. My daughter, who was four at the time, spilled her cup of water. She was stunned and looked up at me. I jumped up for a towel without saying a word. By the time I got back from the kitchen, our guest quipped a few words to try to liven the situation. It had the opposite effect and I saw the tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. I remembered that moment of mortification from years back and wished I could save her from it.
“Could you help me wipe the floor?” I asked her, giving her something to do. “You’re real good at cleaning the floor.”
She smiled and got off her chair. “It’s okay. We all make mistakes,” I whispered as we cleaned the mess together. The rest of the dinner proceeded without incident.
The next day, when I spilled some water in the classroom, my daughter was quick to say, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”
We do, and we always will. When we realize that and treat mistakes as such, we help our children gain a positive outlook on “failure” and give them the power to try again.
(A “repost” from 2011)