Why Making Mistakes is Part of Getting Ready for Kindergarten (or Any Other Grade)

Why Making Mistakes is Part of Getting Ready for Kindergarten (or Any Other Grade)

When you think about kindergarten readiness, chances are that the ability to make mistakes is not the first thing that comes to mind. But making mistakes is a pretty common way that we learn new things. How many times have you made a mistake–like thinking that red sauce in a bottle was ketchup–and discovered something that you didn’t know–like tabasco sauce really does go with fries? Or messed up–perhaps by knocking your mother’s favorite bowl off the counter–and learned a new skill–like how to glue pieces of ceramic back together with barely any cracks?

To young children entering school, everything is new. They will eventually learn the new rules, new expectations and new people, but it will take time. And they are likely to make some mistakes while they are doing it.

So how can you help your child be ready to use mistakes positively as he starts school? Here are two simple tips:

  • Help your child understand that it is okay to make mistakes. Different children react differently to making mistakes. Some don’t even notice when they make mistakes, while others get really upset. It is important to be able to notice mistakes (because how else will your child learn to do things correctly) but if a child gets too upset, then he won’t be able to use the mistake to learn. So it’s important to teach kids that making mistakes is a normal part of life. It’s a way that we learn what things don’t work so well, and what things do. Mistakes are mis-steps, mis-directions, things that we did not intend to do, but that might give us a lot of useful information anyway.

 One great way to show kids that it is okay to make mistakes is to point out your own.  So, if you make a wrong turn while driving, for example, you could say, “Oops!  I just made a mistake. Now I know that this is not the way to get to where we are going. I just learned something there.” Or you could talk about a time that you made a mistake and what it taught you or what you did if there were consequences of that mistake.

 It is also important to remember that while mistakes are normal, and not intended, they can have negative, or even life-altering, consequences. So your child may need to take responsibility and even make amends for the consequences of mistakes sometimes. But that is still not a reason to be afraid of making mistakes: One of the important things that they can teach us is how to fix things.

Which leads to the second tip…..

  • Help your child pay attention to and learn from mistakes. Sometimes as parents, we may be tempted to tell children to forget about mistakes, not to worry about them, particularly if a child is very upset. And, in the moment when a child is upset, you do want to concentrate on helping him calm down, and not talk about the mistake right then. BUT when your child is calm, you could ask what she thinks she might have done differently to get different results. Or, if the mistake has had unintended negative consequences, what she could do to make things better. And, if the mistake resulted in good things–like the discovery of a new favorite thing–then it’s great to point that out too. You could say something like, “Looks like you learned something. What did that mistake tell us?…What could we do with that new information?”

 Remember that the purpose here is not to make your child feel badly by emphasizing what was wrong or that he messed up. (That’s not going to help him feel okay about making mistakes.) Rather, you are building problem-solving skills by helping your child see other ways he might have done things and social skills by helping him think about ways to make others feel better if he has hurt them. Or coping skills by figuring out how to calm himself down.

None of us can avoid making mistakes. And even if we could, would we trade in the chances to find new songs that we like because we listened to the “wrong” station, or new foods we like because we ordered the “wrong” thing? And even though the consequences can sometimes be painful, like hurting a friend’s feelings because we said something that we didn’t mean, mistakes help us know what to do (or not to do) next time.

Join us in the next few weeks as we talk about things like how to support children who get extremely anxious about making mistakes and how to deal with parenting mistakes. This is part of our “Moving Forward in 2018” series.

Image: © Jmpaget | Dreamstime.com

Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.

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