"Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgement."

Although we usually don't like to admit it, we all make mistakes and experience failures in our lives. We've been taught that mistakes and failures are bad. We shouldn't make mistakes, or fail, and if we do we are bad, stupid, or inadequate. And if we let anyone know when we make mistakes or fail at anything, everyone else will know that we are bad, stupid or inadequate. Unfortunately, these misguided beliefs can seriously damage self-esteem and cause discouragement and depression.

Mistakes and failures are an inevitable part of being human. There is always a risk of making a mistake or failing when we try something new, but if we attempt to prevent every possible mistake and failure, we limit our opportunities to learn and grow.

As adults, most of us can look back at our past mistakes and failures with the broad perspective of having gained knowledge and skills from our experiences. Children and adolescents have more difficulty keeping mistakes and failures in perspective because they haven't had as many experiences to learn from. What may seem like a minor mistake, or small setback from an adult point of view may seem to be a disastrous error or absolute, complete failure to a child or adolescent. If the child believes it means he or she is a bad, stupid or inadequate person, it can be psychologically devastating.

We can help children and adolescents develop a healthy perspective of mistakes and failures by reminding them that everyone makes mistakes and experiences failures as a normal part of learning and growing. We can teach them that mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn and grow, not evidence of inadequacy or character flaws. Learning to view mistakes and failures as temporary results of our actions rather than unchangeable personal characteristics gives children and adolescents a much healthier way of viewing life experiences.

Suggestions for developing a healthy view of mistakes and failures include:

  • Never make fun of children's mistakes or failures.
  • Teach children that mistakes and failures are opportunities to learn, not character defects or evidence of inadequacy. For example, saying "What did you learn?" or "What could you have done differently?" rather than "Boy, was that stupid."
  • Make sure children know that there is a big difference between making a mistake or experiencing a failure and being one. For example, saying "You failed to make the softball team," rather than "You're a failure," or "Can't you do anything right?"

For more information on dealing with mistakes and failures, or for other questions or comments, please call the Trinity Adolescent Program at (515) 574-6596.

This article was written by Pam Lehman, a counselor with the Trinity Recovery Center at Trinity Regional Hospital. Pam has a Master of Science degree in counseling.