I hear a lot of concerns from time to time about kids who make mistakes and have a hard time accepting those mistakes. A lot of parents and teachers are concerned about this behavior and often throw around terms like “OCD” or “Oppositional Defiant” because the reactions these students have to mistakes can sometimes be alarming. Students are taught early on that mistakes are undesirable and sometimes resort to extreme emotional outbursts when they know that their “mistake” may result in punishment. It’s easy for parents and teachers to react to a child’s mistake instinctively so it’s important that we begin to look at mistakes a different way ourselves.
I always like to point out to the kids I work with when I make a mistake, sometimes doing so on purpose to let them catch me. In fact, we don’t even call them mistakes, we call them errors. I use the phrase
“An error doesn’t become a mistake unless we refuse to correct it and learn from it.”
Then we talk about how that mistake was so wonderful because it gave me the opportunity to learn from it. We them praise all mistakes and talk about what we learned from them and how it helps us make fewer “errors” later on.
This type of thinking teaches children that it’s okay to make a mistake. As teachers, parents, and others who work with children, we have a misguided tendency to hold students to higher standards than we hold ourselves. I’ve seen it time and time again.
“Timmy! Where is your pencil? How could you have lost your pencil again? Can’t you keep up with it? Go put your name on the board!… “
“Now where did I put my lesson plans?”
Students pick up quickly and easily on our distress and our frustrations with their mistakes. It is easy for them to misinterpret this as anger toward them when in reality it is merely our frustration with their actions. Practice this yourself with your own “errors” and see if it doesn’t help your students, children, and/or classroom all around.