How to talk to your kids about: Making mistakes and failure

Have you evern made a msitake?
They’re is not knowone who hassent made mistakes in the before.

If those sentences frustrate you, it’s possible that you’re not a big fan of mistakes. Here’s the thing, our children make mistakes all the time. Why are their trees blue? How did they misspell their own name? Why have they eaten half the crayons? We need to think about how we talk to our kids when they make mistakes so they go into their adult years equipped and confident to take on the challenge of taking risks and getting it wrong.

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How do you respond to risk and failure?

Failing, or making mistakes, is not fun. No one likes it. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I hope I send an email this morning and then forget to attach the attachment only to have Brenda from accounts reply-all passive aggressively asking where the attachment is.” We don’t look forward to these moments in life, but they happen, and how we react to them teaches our kids so much about us, about them and about life.

What are our kids observing about –

  • The type of risks we take?
  • The new things we try?
  • How we respond when we make a mistake?
  • How we cope when we fail? Or do we avoid those experiences at all cost?

This isn’t about them noticing all the times we stuff up. It’s about our children noticing how we respond to risk and failure. They’re learning from us at all time. Occasionally they learn from what we say, but most of the time they learn from what we do.

So how do we talk about making mistakes?

Start by asking your kids this question – Do we encourage you to take risks where you could actually fail?

Some people hardly let their kids take any risks. Some people let their kids take way too many risks. It’s a tricky balance. We want our kids to be protected enough that they’re safe, yet free enough to become their own people.

Encourage our kids to take safe risks

When we give our kids just the right amount of freedom, it’s amazing and life-giving. What we’re communicating to them is that we believe they have what it takes. They end up thinking to themselves, “Wow, my parents really trust me!” or, “Wow, if my parents think I can do this, maybe I can!” or, “Wow, my parents really don’t understand how sticky super glue is!”

Our job as parents is to help our children navigate the types of risks they take. Too risky and they might find themselves out of their depth and scared to try again. Too safe and they might never discover their true potential.

Try asking your kids this question – What is something that you think you are capable of that we haven’t let you try yet?

What about fear?

Sometimes fear stops us. The fear that our kid will be out of their depth. The fear that our kid won’t have what it takes, or fear that they can’t actually swim and they’ll get embarrassed because they don’t have the confidence to wear speedos at school.

The question is – is that fear about our kid, or is that fear about us?

Now be honest. Because sometimes what we’re actually trying to protect our kid from is something that happened to us. Our child is not us. They won’t necessarily make the same choices that we did when we were their age, and they might not even feel the same way. Let’s be careful to not to project our past mistakes or failures onto our children.

In fact, one of the most life-giving things we can do for our kids is to work through our own anxieties. Do it. Start today. Our kids are going to have to work through their own stuff. So let’s work through our fears and anxieties so they they don’t have to work through their stuff and our stuff.

The power of the word ‘yet’

Our kids will stuff up, make mistakes and want to give up. It’s essential that we empathise with how they’re feeling right now, at the same time as encouraging them to be who they could be. That tension is held in the word ‘yet’.

“It’s okay that you haven’t worked out how to tie your shoes yet.”
“It’s okay that you haven’t been selected for the top team yet.”
“It’s okay that you haven’t worked out how to spell ‘regularly’ yet.“
“It’s okay that you haven’t worked out how to say ‘regularly’ yet.”
“It’s okay that you don’t know how to pick the least socially awkward urinal – yet.”

There is power in the word ‘yet’.

Continue to take risks yourself

The other thing we can do to teach our kids to have a healthy attitude towards making mistakes is to continue to make mistakes ourselves. Get out of your comfort zone. Learn a new language, join Toastmasters, join a social sports team for a sport that you have never played before, write a kids’ book and have it rejected by every publishing firm on earth.

Failure is part of learning. Show them getting it wrong is how we figure out what something’s meant to be like. Reassure your kids that it’s okay to make mistakes while they’re still learning. Try asking your kids what they think this means – “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly while you get good at it.”

In the midst of it all, us taking these risks and making mistakes will help us have empathy for the myriad of new challenges that our children face on a daily basis as they transition from childhood to adulthood. It will also give us an opportunity to demonstrate how to cope with making mistakes, not just talk about how to deal with making mistakes.


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About Author

Christian Gallen

Christian is a Senior Presenter and National Trainer for Attitude. He has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long presenting career. Christian manages all the social media and online content for Attitude and is passionate about seeing young people make great choices online and offline.

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