What to Do When Your Child is Afraid of Making Mistakes
Is your child terrified of making mistakes?
Do they often shy away from work that is out of their comfort zone, or refuse to do something they have never done before? Do they shut down when they get a wrong answer? Do they give up on their homework often?
I often meet with students who are TERRIFIED of making a mistake. These kids would rather not do the work because they know if they do, they are at risk of making a mistake. I get it, I've been there! I also meet with many students that aren't afraid to attempt the work, but get discouraged and shut down when they get an answer wrong or make a mistake.
So where is this coming from?
I don't know about you, but I like it when people think that I am near perfect at something. I think that it is a trait that all humans have built in. We want everyone to think we don't make that many mistakes. There is some merit in "fake it til you make it" and acting professional, but I think as a whole we might be headed in the wrong direction in this area. In general, we don't admit mistakes very often-which might be where students are getting this fear. Though I like it when people think I am near perfect- I try to be the first to admit that I make mistakes.
These kids who are shutting down, giving up, or not even trying, are missing out on so many opportunities to learn. These kids get more behind because of their fear of making mistakes, which makes it impossible for them to keep up in school, and also keeps them making more mistakes- and the cycle continues.
So how do we help these students learn? How do we help them get over their fear of making mistakes?
1. Put your mistakes on display
Here's the thing, you may not think that you are harming anyone when you sweep over your mistakes, but you might be. The children in our society need to be more aware that there is a lot of mistake making going on!
It is my opinion that we contribute to student's fears. As adults, we often try to make it seem that we don't make mistakes- especially in front of children, because we fear that it will discredit our authority or knowledge. Even if we do not continuously cover up our mistakes, we may not be pointing them out enough! For these children who are terrified of making mistakes, we need to point out our own.
It doesn't matter what kind of mistake you point out as long as you do it. Once children understand that someone they love and respect makes mistakes, learns from them, and moves on, they will begin to realize that mistakes don't make them "stupid". Your child will begin to realize that mistakes are actually a great opportunity to learn.
I try to point out my mistakes to students at least once a session. I will admit, sometimes I make a calculation error and get the wrong answer or miss words when reading. Whenever this happens I say "Oh, I must have made a mistake- let me go back and see where I went wrong.". I also don't shy away from apologizing to my students when I make a mistake that affects them (like forgetting to bring a certain material) and I want them to know that I sincerely apologize for my mistake.
2. Celebrate learning from mistakes
When your child makes a mistake, try celebrating it more than a right answer. I know that it sounds a little crazy...because we want our kids to get the right answers, but it can really help with the constant fear of mistakes. Mistakes help us learn, and a lot of times when we are learning something new, we make a lot of them. We want to celebrate learning, therefore we should celebrate mistakes! Consider giving high fives or cheers when a wrong answer is given.
When celebrating mistakes, guide your child through how to learn from the mistake. See if they can explain to you where they went wrong, or what they need to learn in order to get the right answer. Even asking the simple question "what can we learn from this mistake?" can help your child shift their mindset.
With students who come to me terrified of making a mistake or discouraged when they do, I see their mentality change with the more mistakes they see me make and the more we celebrate theirs. With their new mentality on mistakes and how they can use them to learn, students make more significant progress in their studies because they are not afraid to put themselves out there and try something hard.
What mistakes have you learned from today?