Let Your Child Make Mistakes For These 7 Benefits, Experts Say
Letting my kids make big mistakes is not something I'm particularly great at. I'm prone to give them a safety net and be the mom who can help pick up the pieces swiftly. But the older they get, the more I see the benefits of letting kids make mistakes.
When they were little, seeing them try to climb up the tallest ladder on the playground only to have them fall flat on their back when they realized they weren't quite big enough or strong enough to do it yet just broke my heart. However, I now see the benefit of letting them learn lessons the hard way — by making their own mistakes. When my second grader forgets to take a homework assignment the day it's due, I don't run it up to the school for him. He can take it the next day and lose a few points. Chances are he will only do it a time or two before he learns that his hard work would be rewarded with a better grade if he remembered to bring his homework back on time.
"The only failure in life is not to learn from mistakes. Parents who love their children unconditionally mean they love them while they make mistakes, too. The goal is to help your son or daughter course-correct if they make a mistake and learn to get back up again," Maureen Healy, child psychologist, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, and parenting coach at Growinghappykids.com tells Romper. "We know as adults that mistakes happen, but it's getting back up that makes all the difference in the world."
As it turns out, the benefits of letting kids make mistakes can help them develop skills that are necessary in order to become successful adults. By supporting your kids when they make a misstep, you can reinforce these benefits and watch them learn valuable lessons from their mistakes.
1. Making Mistakes Increases Self-Reliability
Just like when my son forgets to take his math homework to school with him, sometimes letting your kids make mistakes can help them become more self-reliable.
"If a parent or caregiver creates space for a child to make mistakes and learn from them — or take responsibility for them, then they can become more self-reliant," Healy explains.
For example, if I were to take my son's homework to him at school every single time he forgets it, he would likely not learn to rely on his own self to remember his assignments. Of course, he knows I will always be there for him, but if I bail him out every time he forgets something, he might never learn to be self-reliant.
2. Making Mistakes Builds Confidence
"Confidence from Latin means 'with faith,' so confidence is ultimately learning how to have faith in yourself," Healy explains. In her book Growing Happy Kids, Healy details how inner confidence is built. "Children who learn they're bigger than their mistakes and can move toward becoming more confident," she says.
Part of building confidence has to do with the feeling of accomplishment that comes from learning after a mistake is made. “When children make a mistake or fail at something, then figure out how to do that task correctly, they can definitely gain confidence because they feel like they have made a significant accomplishment," Dr. Scott Krugman, vice chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore tells Romper. "It is important that the children do this on their own, and then get the feedback that they did it correctly.”
Krugman does caution however that parents should be careful to provide balance and point out successes, too. “If parents only point out mistakes without highlighting the successes, children are more likely to have low self-esteem.”
3. Making Mistakes Creates A Healthy & Happy Life With Less Anxiety
"You cannot have a successful and meaningful life without mistakes," Healy tells Romper. "The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. The ability to use mistakes as 'stepping stones' towards a healthier and happier life is a skill children must learn."
In addition to learning skills that lead to happiness, allowing a child to make a mistake can decrease the risk for developing anxiety issues later in life, which can ultimately take away from their health and happiness.
"Children who are fearful of making a mistake or have a fear of failure tend to be more worried, less likely to try new experiences, and are at greater risk for developing an anxiety disorder," Deborah Zlotnik, Ph.D., a psychologist with Children's National explains. "Additionally, if a child is taught that it is not OK to make a mistake, ultimately when they do something wrong, they may be more likely to hide the mistake or failure as they may have learned that failure is shameful. In turn, they may be less likely to be open about these instances with adults."
4. Making Mistakes Creates The Ability To Accept Consequences
"Making a mistake can lead to not-so-pleasant consequences, but if they are minor, it’s better for the children to go through it on their own," Krugman tells Romper. "Children who are 'over-protected' and never allowed to do anything wrong will never learn that they actually can be wrong. We all make mistakes as humans and we all need to learn how to accept the consequences so we don’t make the same ones over and over again."
This is a valuable life lesson that will stay with your children long after childhood, experts say. "Allowing children to make mistakes is beneficial because it allows them to learn how to handle failure and setbacks. They learn how to recover from the setback and may handle the problem differently in the future," Zlotnik says.
5. Making Mistakes Increases Resiliency
"By letting children make mistakes, they are able to learn to tolerate stress and develop their own coping tools for overcoming difficult situations," Zlotnik tells Romper. "Furthermore, they learn that everything does not have to be perfect. This helps children build resiliency — the ability to overcome challenging and negative experiences.”
Zlotnik also suggests that parents can model how to be resilient by allowing children to see them fail or make mistakes and acknowledging them.
6. Making Mistakes Lets Kids Learn To Handle Stress & Disappointment
“If parents allow children to make mistakes, children will face the natural consequences of the situation, whether it is a skinned knee, a bad grade, or feeling disappointed. By having to deal with these consequences, over time, children will learn more adaptive ways of handling the situation and will also learn that they are able to handle stress and disappointment," Zlotnik tells Romper.
So, even when your child gets upset by a natural consequence, the stress they feel in the moment is something they're learning from. "As such, over time they become more responsible by making better choices, avoiding negative consequences, and learning more adaptive ways to handle situations," Zlotnik adds.
7. Bonus Benefit: Allows Parents To Practice Their Own Coping Skills
It may seem counterintuitive to allow your child to fall on their face, so to speak. After all, you don't want them to get hurt or feel bad about themselves. But there are clear benefits of letting your child make a mistake, including the benefit of allowing you as a parent to practice your own coping skills.
"In order for a parent to overcome hesitancy in letting a child make a mistake and possibly fail, it is important for the parent to develop a plan about how they would handle their own stress while watching their child make a possible mistake," Zlotnik explains. "For example, the parent could use his or her own coping skills such as relaxation or distraction to overcome the uncomfortable time. Also, they can use self-talk and tell themselves, by allowing my child to make a mistake, I am helping my child become more resilient and independent. Overall, parents must learn to balance when to step in and when to let their child learn from experience."
Maureen Healy, child psychologist, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, and parenting coach at Growinghappykids.com
Scott Krugman, MD, MS, FAAP, Vice Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore
Deborah Zlotnik, Ph.D., psychologist with Children's National