Mistakes are part and parcel of life - here are ways to help your child take risks and fail safely.


No parent enjoys watching their kids fail anything, especially since it’s always hard to see junior feel miserable after making a mistake.

As loving caregivers, we naturally want to protect our little ones in every way, and this includes preventing them from getting into trouble.

However, making mistakes is an important and even beneficial part of life, both for children and adults.

“Making mistakes is a fundamental part of life that no one can or even should avoid, because mistakes provide children with so much important information, insight and lessons,” notes Dr Vanessa von Auer, a clinical psychologist at VA Psychology Center. “It also motivates children to try new things, to take a different approach and to independently problem-solve.”

Adds Freda Sutanto, a senior educational & developmental psychologist at Kaleidoscope Therapy Centre, “Making mistakes is part and parcel of applying concepts, especially new concepts. No matter how much theory is taught, kids need to try out the concept (and make mistakes along the way) before really understanding and using the concept.”

Seeing as how making mistakes is pivotal in your child’s learning and development process, we round up several mistakes you should let junior make and how they will benefit them.

"Letting them get wrong answers encourages independent learning and aids them in figuring out how to solve problems."

1. Getting incorrect answers in their homework

The pressure to get good grades is part and parcel of school life in Singapore. So, it’s tempting to want to help your child with homework (or even do it for them).

However, you won’t do your child any favours when you correct all their mistakes, so that they’ll submit “model answers”. As their teachers won’t be able to identify what junior doesn’t understand about a particular concept, they will struggle to complete tests or exams on their own.

In contrast, letting them get wrong answers encourages independent learning and aids them in figuring out how to solve problems. Sutanto advises that if your child mostly understands a concept, then allow them to apply the concept by themselves.

She says, “Take reading comprehension, for example ― if your child understands most of the passage, then let them work out the answers even if they are not correct. Reflecting on their mistakes later helps to build comprehension and reasoning skills.”

2. Forgetting to bring their textbooks or homework to school

Tired of reminding junior to pack their school bag every night? It’s time to hit the pause button on the reminders!

Of course, this means they might forget to bring important things like their textbooks, stationery, water bottles or homework to class.

“Teach them that being responsible means taking care of their belongings and dealing with the consequences of their actions,” says Sutanto. “And when they forget items at home for school, do not bring it for them.”

When junior handles the consequences such as being punished by teachers for forgetting their homework, kids will learn to be more accountable. And it’s these qualities that will carry them through their teenage and adult years, whether it’s managing a new job or being a dependable team member in a group project.



3. Not getting an ideal outcome when trying new experiences

“Promote trying out new things, routines and experiences,” suggests Dr von Auer. “If they dislike these as a result of making a mistake or not receiving the outcome they expected, help them take a humorous approach to it.”

As an example, one such approach may be, “smelling this lily flower made me sneeze like a cartoon character, next time I know what I can do to unblock my sinuses”. Looking at the humour in a situation builds a resilient, positive child who looks at the bright side when they get things wrong.

You can also affirm your child when they try a new experience, even if they themselves think it is a mistake.

Dr von Auer explains, “If your child wants to try the roller coaster and thereafter feels sick, praise him or her for trying something new and normalise that some people just get nauseous and giddy on roller coasters. You are teaching your child that they are in control of making decisions that are right for them personally.”

"When your child learns that his or her own bad decisions leads to unintended consequences, they’ll be more mindful of making better choices in the future."

4. Doing household chores badly

“Let kids experience home activities such as washing dishes or helping out with cooking or cleaning,” Sutanto advises. “Inevitably, they will make mistakes such as not scraping out all the last bits of food before washing a dish.”

Though it’s frustrating when kids struggle to handle the chores, refrain from letting them off the hook and doing it for them (helicopter parents, take note!). Rather, guide them through the how they should complete a specific chore, then let them do it on their own.

This way, kids will get a better understanding as to why certain systems or steps need to be in place, even as it expands on their “big picture” thinking as well as practical living skills, Sutanto points out.

She adds, “A good rule of thumb is if your child is able to demonstrate a skill (or chore) properly 80 per cent of the time, then they don’t need you to constantly monitor them or give feedback for that activity.”

5. Making bad personal decisions

Dr von Auer asserts, “Allow children to make their own decisions ― if their choice ends up in a mistake or unwanted outcome it helps them take responsibility for their mistake and not blame others.”

These can range from anything to disappointing their best friend when they don’t show up at their party, to doing a bad job on their science project because they procrastinated

You should also encourage your child to come up with alternative ways to manage a similar situation in the future, so that they’ll feel empowered to continue making decisions. For example, if they’ve hurt their friend, encourage them to find ways to be kinder with their words or actions in future.

When your child learns that his or her own bad decisions leads to unintended consequences, they’ll be more mindful of making better choices in the future.

How to let your child take risks and make mistakes safely

Sure, making mistakes builds character, but you also want to be there for your child as well. The experts share tips on how you can help your child take risks safely:

  • Make sure your child knows that no one is perfect, so you don’t expect him/her to be perfect either
  • Give them the independence and freedom to try new things in a safe environment, for instance, trying a new piece of equipment in an indoor playground).
  • Don’t rescue your child or solve their problem immediately. For example, allow your little one to get stuck on the slide and devise their own solutions for descending from it.
  • Identify potential areas of risks and mistakes before complex tasks, so that they will be mindful about their own learning process. For example, before a science experiment, discuss with them which steps might be trickier and why.
  • Encourage them to reflect on their learning process and let them fill in the blanks as to what went wrong. For example, if they make a mistake on a maths problem, don’t say, “you should have divided instead of subtracted”. Instead, say something like “take a look at the steps and think where you think you need to make amendments”.

Photos: iStock

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