How many parents wish they could do everything perfectly?
How many parents want their children to be perfect as well? How many realize it’s not realistic, nor does it help in building resilience?
It’s tough to do everything right, especially when it comes to parenting. Perfection is an impossible goal. Humans are imperfect beings, but building resilience comes from those mistakes and missteps along our journey. Satisfaction comes not from preventing kids (and ourselves) from making mistakes but from helping children learn from mistakes and identify them as opportunities for growth.
We all know kids model their parents’ behavior. They see how adults deal with life’s dilemmas and challenges and whether they dwell in the mistake or move forward. Because we’re all imperfect, there will definitely be mistakes and missteps on the road of parenting. Still, we can set a powerful example by learning to celebrate mistakes rather than fear them—here’s how to open your mind to mistakes.
A friend of ours told me the beautiful way her father helped her embrace her mistakes as she was growing up. Every day when the family sat down to dinner, Dad would ask what mistakes she’d made. It wasn’t a negative conversation or a way to point out shortcomings. Instead, the discussion presented a chance for learning.
The only answer that he wouldn’t accept was, “None.” As long as she had mistakes to share, he would tell her how proud he was to hear what she learned.
I just love that as a conversation starter—one we could all embrace for building resilience and grit. Our mistakes should be celebrated as a chance to gain insight. Reflecting on them isn’t meant to drag us down, shame us, or replay our embarrassment over and over. Instead, it’s a chance to see what works, what doesn’t and measure your approach. It’s an opportunity to make connections.
Many of us veer towards playing it safe and trying not to “rock the boat.” We don’t like risks because they’re, well…risky.
The funny thing is that kids are often great at embracing their mistakes as part of their learning process. Because childhood is so fraught with new experiences, there’s no expectation that it will always go right. It’s a series of trial and error. By learning to embrace these trials and errors, they’re building resilience and grit—the ability to bounce back even stronger after a setback.
Often, kids don’t learn to avoid mistakes until they hit adolescence. As they get older, they learn to feel shame and embarrassment about their missteps and failed attempts. As a result, they may hide them or avoid them. Whereas little children are rarely embarrassed trying something new. They don’t worry about looking “silly” or “stupid.” Instead, they approach the task with the sheer joy and exhilaration of discovery.
Of course, if you’ve ever watched kids play, you know that it can be serious business too. Observe kids on the playground, and we’ll see very important interactions. They test the waters with friendships and explore social boundaries. Kids are learning all the time with each new experience. Every moment gives them a chance to examine the approach, consider what they’ve seen in the adult world around them, and apply it to their own social circle.
Anyone who watches kids for even a short time quickly realizes that arguments, frustrations, and even tears are part of the experiment too. Play is very emotional, and children are often extremely expressive. Kids haven’t yet been weighed down by the idea that it’s not okay to cry, or we shouldn’t express upset when our feelings are hurt. Instead, they let it all out. Intuitively, they know that feelings are part of growing and learning, and their emotions are okay.
Getting hurt, losing, and failing are all part of the big game of growing up. Play entails risk, whether it’s climbing on a jungle gym or running around during kickball. There’s a chance to fall, get hurt, and feel pain. Yet, kids keep right ongoing. They have determination, grit, and resilience to try again. Imagine if babies gave up on walking the first time they fell! Kids naturally know they have to keep moving forward. The important part is to help them continue to take risks growing up.
Sometimes kids may even teach parents how to learn from mistakes.
At our parent and child weekend retreat, we often have the kids fix breakfast for the parents. During this exciting process, the kids are given access to food, the stove, knives, and more. They get to handle all those items they’re typically told not to touch. While the parents learn and work on their personal development, kids get busy learning and experimenting on their own in the kitchen.
Parents often struggle a little with the idea of allowing kids so much freedom. After all, they could make mistakes—breakfast could be ruined! The kids could get cut by a knife or burned by a skillet. They could spill something on the floor. They could mess up a recipe!
The kids, on the other hand, LOVE this experience. They go into the kitchen with their creative thinking caps on, happily embracing their freedom. They’re approaching the experience as another opportunity to learn and discover—to make mistakes and experiment. For kids, 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 and rather satisfying to see the parents’ amazement when their children proudly present them with the food—an entire meal they’ve prepared on their own. They’ve planned and tested. They’ve made discoveries. Yes, there are always a few mistakes along the way, but each one is part of the experience.
As adults, we can embrace this same approach and continue to thrive in a transformative state. We can choose to continue to grow, learn, and evolve. We can allow ourselves to make a mess and try new things. Yet, we often shy away from tasks we aren’t good at. We avoid making mistakes because we fear them.
Mistakes are such an essential 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.
So, when we wonder how to help children learn from mistakes, we may want to adjust that thinking to teaching ourselves how to embrace our own mistakes. Most kids know that mistakes are part of the fun of the journey. It’s only later that they learn that they should avoid making them. Adults, on the other hand, shy away from new endeavors. We calculate our approach and measure our response. When our 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.
If we start to approach new situations as opportunities for trial (and error), our world opens up considerably. The world becomes our playground. A place where we can experiment, see what works, see what doesn’t. We can explore our interactions with others. But, best of all, we can learn to play!
To learn more about embracing new experiences and transforming your world, please explore our courses at Wright Now. We offer many courses to help you learn more about your career, relationships, and personal growth. Start living a life of MORE today!
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.