Learning from mistakes: How to encourage children to learn when they don’t get it right

December 17, 2019

Learning is a lifelong journey. From the moment we are born, we never stop learning skills, life values, concepts and theories. As parents, we revel in our children’s accomplishments of milestones. Conversely, when they are unable to grasp the skill or concept, they may feel demoralised or lose confidence in themselves.

As parents, it is tempting to shield them from mistakes, but making mistakes is actually part of the learning process. In fact, making mistakes even enhance learning for children attending preschool in Singapore and in primary and secondary schools.

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, did research on two groups of fifth graders (10- to 11-year-olds) who were given a test for eighth graders (13- to 14-year-olds). The group praised for their effort worked hard and though they made mistakes, their marks increased by 30%. The group praised for their intelligence were demoralised when they made mistakes and their scores fell by 20%. This showed that praising children for their intelligence, rather than effort, makes them less likely to persist during challenges.

Tips to help children learn from mistakes – from preschool to primary school in Singapore

Preschool (2 to 4 years old)

1. Help them to acknowledge their feelings
When your child is feeling disappointed, help them to express their feelings and relax by providing a few types of calm-down materials. After they feel better, show them how they can attempt the task again.

2. Praise them for taking responsibility for their mistakes
Children attending preschool in Singapore are of a fragile age and owning up to mistakes is a fine example of being responsible. Heap on the praise to encourage such behaviour.

Read also: 5 Ways to Build Character and Integrity in Preschoolers

Kindergarten in Singapore (5 to 6 years old)

1. Tell them about your past mistakes, consequences and lessons learnt

Providing your children with anecdotes of how you failed, the consequences that followed and the experience gained from failure shows them that making mistakes is a normal part of learning. However, do emphasise that there is always a lesson to be learned from failure.

2. Reassure your children that they do not have to be perfect

Children attending preschool in Singapore may feel pressured if they are unable to meet certain developmental and learning milestones that are required of them, such as writing or reading.

While an enrichment class may provide a developmental benefit, do not forget to reassure your child that they do not need to be perfect or score full marks all the time.

 Primary School (7 years old and older)

1. Encourage them to try again

Children are sensitive to the emotions of others. When they encounter mistakes, do not dwell on it, but praise them for trying, and encourage them to try again. The focus on effort instead of capability will spur them to work harder.

2. Seek out enrichment classes of their interest

When we do something that we are passionate about, we naturally put in more effort into it. Enrolling your child in an enrichment class of their interest can build their self-confidence, which in turn helps when they make mistakes.

3. Don’t rescue them

Has your child forgotten her homework or left a consent form at home? Instead of rushing to deliver it for them, letting them experience the natural consequences can prove beneficial. They may then learn to check that everything is in order the night before.

Read also: 6 Life Skills Children Learn During Nursery in Singapore

Maria Montessori has said, “Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements”. Let us guide and support our children to let them learn and build up resilience. Singapore children have been revealed to be the most fearful of failure in the world, and this can surely be changed for future generations.

Written by Jamie Koh

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