Words: committing words to paper, speaking words, listening to words, interpreting the meaning behind words – if there has ever been a larger source of joy or frustration than language, I have not come across it.
Two people reading the same words will get very different meanings, depending on their frame of reference and experiences. By changing which part of the word is stressed, you can convey a different meaning from the accepted norm. One of my favorite examples of this is the word “Mistake”.
The word Mistake has a certain negativity associated with it. If you have done something wrong, you have made a mistake. If an action does not have the desired outcome, it is deemed a mistake. I would like to argue that a mistake doesn’t have to be negative and I would like to explore a different frame of reference for this common word.
There is a little but very important word hiding in mistake. Can you see it? It is the word “take”. In order to make a mistake you have to TAKE action. Taking action is a positive start, it means you are doing something – even if it has different results than you were expecting.
Making mistakes is the building block of learning, it’s how we learn about and interact with the world. We take action, a make mistake, and try again.
As we get older we get the impression that it is bad to make mistakes. We try to avoid them at all costs, we don’t see them as learning opportunities, and this fear of making a mistake, looking silly or being wrong stops us from taking action.
This is why I like to leave my students with the idea that it is okay to make mistakes. I actively encourage mistakes because it’s part of the learning process. You learn more about the world and yourself by being able to acknowledge and examine mistakes and try again. Having a system you can use to teach your kids to use to make the most of mistakes will be of great value to them as they grow up.
Accept and Acknowledge
It’s important to accept that mistakes are a part of life. You will make mistakes, so will your friends, your children, and everyone you know. We can’t grow if we are unwilling to make mistakes; every time you beat yourself up or criticize another person for a mistake, a learning opportunity is lost.
The hard part of accepting you have made a mistake is acknowledging it, especially to our children and others we care about. It is a very humbling experience and it’s much easier to deflect blame for our actions onto other people, circumstances, or anything else unfortunate enough to be nearby. If this avoidance of responsibility is the example set for children, how can they be expected to take responsibility for their actions? After all, children do as we do, not as we say.
Having the courage to say “I made a mistake” is the starting point for learning. If you create an environment for your children where mistakes are treated as a learning experiences, you are giving your children a gift and tool they will use their entire lives.
This is the analytical part of this process. After accepting you made a mistake, you must figure out why you actually made a mistake. There’s a lot of potential reasons, including circumstances, ignorance, thoughts, and/or feelings you had at the time. To simplify the matter, I always seem to come back to the basics: who, what, where, when, why, and how. There is a reason these questions are drilled into us in school. If you can formulate your thoughts and opinions in a way that answers these questions, you will be more articulate and find answers you might have otherwise overlooked.
Teach your kids to examine their mistakes by asking them these basic questions. As they get older, it will become automatic that they will start to examine the “why’s” about their own mistakes. Similarly, by tying the causes of a mistake to past actions, you help to teach your children that our actions, all of them, have consequences that need to be considered.
If you make a mistake, something didn’t work. Once you have examined your mistake, it’s time to gather courage and try again. The best way to do this is to create a plan. If you try the same thing in the same way, you will generally get the same result. It is always easier to take action when you have a plan you are confident in, which could be either a mental plan or a plan committed to paper.
To get kids thinking about a plan of action, ask them “What will you do differently?”. Word selection is important, because using the words “if” or “would” gives them the option of not trying again. When you help kids work through a plan and examine different possibilities before they take action, you’re helping them succeed.
The only permanent mistake is giving up. There is always a chance for a different outcome, so long as you try again. After you have accepted you made a mistake, examined the circumstances surrounding it, and decided what you will do differently, it is time for action.
It’s easy to get discouraged because you might make another mistake, but each attempt gives you more information to work with so you can adapt your plan and try again.
Making mistakes are a part of life and the most valuable thing we can do is take action, because each “take” is an opportunity to learn and grow and these opportunities should not be missed. It takes some practice – especially to admit you made a mistake – but the opportunity for growth can not be overstated. I hope you will embrace your next mistake and teach your kids to do the same.