Dr. Judith Wright | October 9, 2018

Helping Children Build Grit and Resilience By Learning from Mistakes

How many parents wish they could do everything perfectly? How many parents want their children to be perfect as well?

Helping children (and ourselves) build grit and resilience comes by learning from our mistakes. No one is perfect, but we grow stronger by experience.

It’s tough to do everything right, especially when it comes to parenting. In fact, it’s an impossible goal. Humans are imperfect beings, but it’s those mistakes and missteps that help us build grit and resilience. Satisfaction comes not from preventing kids (and ourselves) from making mistakes, but from helping children learn from mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth.

Kids model their parents’ behavior. They also see how you deal with life’s dilemmas and challenges and whether you see setbacks as failures or chances to move forward. These learning opportunities help kids build coping skills, grit, and resilience.

Just like there are no perfect kids, there are no perfect parents either. There will be mistakes and missteps on your journey. It’s important to start looking at mistakes as positive opportunities to be celebrated rather than feared.

Celebrating Your Mistakes Builds Grit and Resilience

A friend of ours was telling me how her dad helped her embrace mistakes as she was growing up. Every day, her dad would sit down for dinner with the family and ask her what mistakes she’d made that day. It wasn’t a negative conversation meant to point out her shortcomings. Instead, it was an opportunity for conversation and learning. In fact, the only answer that he wasn’t looking for was, “None.” As long as she had a mistake to share, he’d tell her how proud he was to hear she was learning.

I just love that conversation starter. Mistakes should be celebrated as a chance for insights. Reflecting on them isn’t meant to drag us down, to shame us, or to replay our embarrassment over and over. It’s a chance to see what works, what doesn’t, and measure your approach. It’s an opportunity to make connections.

In fact, mistakes are proof that you’re going for it! They’re proof that you’re taking positive risks.

The funny thing is, kids are often great at embracing their mistakes as part of the learning process. They learn to build grit and resilience—the ability to bounce back even stronger after a setback. It’s often not until they’re adolescents that they learn to feel shame and embarrassment about their missteps and failed attempts. Little children are rarely embarrassed when they’re trying out something new. In fact, they often approach it with sheer joy and exhilaration.

Of course, play can be serious business too. When we watch kids on the playground, we see these very important interactions. We see the ways they test the waters with friendships and stretch their social boundaries. Children are learning all the time. Every experience is a chance to examine their approach—to apply what they’ve seen in the adult world and see how it works with their friends.

Childhood is a time of rapid transformation, growth, and evolution. Kids are learning how to engage and how to interact with others. Life is a great social experiment.

At the same time, if you’ve watched kids for any amount of time, you quickly learn that arguments, frustrations, and even tears are part of the experiment as well. Play is very emotional, and children are often extremely expressive. They aren’t weighed down by the belief that “it’s not okay to cry,” or it’s not okay to be upset when our feelings are hurt. They get it all out. They understand intuitively that feelings are an important part of growing and learning. Their emotions are okay.

Getting hurt, losing, failing—it’s all part of the game of growing up. Play involves risk. Think about climbing on the jungle gym or running during kickball. There’s always a chance they could fall, get hurt, feel pain. Yet, they keep going. They build up that determination, grit, and resilience to try again. Kids keep taking these risks as their growing up. These tests or mistakes are a way to see what works and what doesn’t.

Sometimes kids can even teach their parents about how to learn from mistakes.

Watch Your Kids…and Learn

At our parent and child weekend retreats, we often have the kids fix breakfast for the parents. This means the kids are given access to food, the stove or skillet, knives…all the items children are normally told not to handle. Meanwhile, the parents learn and work on their personal development. The kids get busy in the kitchen doing some fun learning on their own.

Often, the parents struggle a little with allowing their kids this freedom. After all, they could make mistakes. Breakfast could turn out terribly. They could get cut or burned while they’re handing the food in the kitchen.

The kids, on the other hand, LOVE this experience. They go into the kitchen with their creative thinking caps on. They’re approaching the experience as another opportunity to learn and discover. For them, the experience of cooking a big meal in a kitchen is often fresh and new. They typically approach it with bravery, interest, and enthusiasm.

It’s always fun to see the parents’ amazement when their children proudly present them with the food. They’ve gone through the steps to creating a meal on their own. They’ve planned and tested. There are always a few mistakes along the way, but each one is seen as being part of the experience.

Kids thrive on new opportunity. They are natural transformers because transformation is synonymous with growth. Kids are in a constant state of transformation.

As adults, we can still be in a transformative state. We can choose to continue to grow, learn, and evolve. Yet, we often shy away from tasks we aren’t good at. We avoid mistakes, but they are an important part of the growth and transformation process. As adults, we have to rediscover our inner transformer—that curious kid inside–and this often involves being more willing to engage with others, make mistakes, and even feel hurt.

Transformers are not just willing to make mistakes and displease others; they also celebrate the learning mistakes engender. If this strikes you as counterintuitive—if it seems like these actions will distance you from what you yearn for—understand that taking risks and failing is the best way to learn. And, in order to please yourself, you may have to displease other people. Your boss may not like it if you disagree with him, but to do the work in a way that has impact, you may have no other choice. Obviously, you don’t want to turn yourself into a mistake-making, displeasing machine; this is a path toward failure and misanthropy. Fortunately, making a few key mistakes and taking a few stances that run counter to others you care about is usually sufficient to jump-start the learning process.
Prepare for hurt. With engagement, we experience embarrassment and hurt, and out of this comes genuine humility. As you take action in ways that are true to your yearning, you say and do things at times that others don’t appreciate or approve of. Like a child who is acting authentically and follows his urge to tell the teacher what he thinks of an assignment, you too may find yourself being misunderstood, rejected, or reprimanded.
–Transformed! The Science of Spectacular Living

So, when we wonder how to help children learn from mistakes, we may actually want to adjust that thinking to teaching ourselves how to embrace our own mistakes. Most kids know that mistakes are part of the fun. Adults, on the other hand, shy away and calculate our approach or measure our response. When kids are concerned about mistakes, they may even be picking up on their parents’ fear of mistakes—modeling their parents’ behavior. If we want to learn strength, grit, and resilience, we’d be wise to observe our kids and the way they cope with mistakes.

If we instead start to approach new situations as opportunities for trial (and error), our world opens up greatly. The world becomes our playground. A place where we can experiment, see what works, and see what doesn’t. We can explore our interactions with others. Best of all, we can learn to play!

For more on parenting and valuing your mistakes, please visit us at the Wright Foundation. We have many of our courses available for download on our website. Don’t miss out on our special introductory price on these great courses!

 About the Author

Judith Wright receives the Visionary Leader Award from Chicago NAWBO.

Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.

Loving the content and want more? Follow Judith on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

Liked this post and want more? Sign up for updates – free!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.