Mistakes: What Parents Can do to Help Their Children be Less Fearful about Mistakes and Setbacks
As a father, clinical psychologist, educator, youth sports coach, and consultant I have been very interested in how children and adults understand and respond to mistakes in their lives. I strongly believe that one’s response to failure or to the possibility of failure is a strong indication of a person’s sense of self-worth and feelings of competence.
This article is dedicated to what parents can do to help their children be less fearful about mistakes and setbacks.
I should emphasize a point I have made in several previous articles about the concept of success. When I refer to people as successful I am not using as the main criteria their accumulated wealth or social status but rather the extent to which they are comfortable and content with their personal and professional lives, their compassion and generosity, their ability to handle adversity, and the ease with which they relate to others.
I noted that one framework that has provided me with guideposts to assess the ways in which we understand and respond to both mistakes and successes is attribution theory. This theory, originally proposed by psychologist Bernard Weiner, highlights that whether we are aware of it or not, we assume different reasons for why we succeed and fail and that these reasons are directly related to our self-esteem and confidence.
More specifically, successful people believe that mistakes provide opportunities for learning and future success. They attribute mistakes to conditions that can be changed. For instance, if children with high self-esteem fail a test that they believe was within their ability to pass, they will seek out the assistance of teachers or parents and/or develop more effective strategies for studying and learning. If they are playing basketball and an opposing player drives by them to score, they will listen closely to the coach about how to be a more effective defensive player in the future. It is not that they say in a jubilant voice, "I am happy to make mistakes so that I can learn." However, they do not experience failure as proof that they are failures. They view mistakes as expected occurrences.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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