Mfundo is a young man who is considered to be a top academic and sporting high-flyer. He is in Grade 5 and has already won many awards for his achievements. Despite his top-of-the-class status, his parents and teachers are very concerned because Mfundo is making negative behavioral choices. He is often in trouble for bullying other children and his parents find his tantrums at home almost intolerable. Why would a child who seemingly has everything going for him, behave in this way?
The answer is quite simple. According to Cindy Glass, Owner and Co-Founder of Step Up Education Centres, Mfundo, like so many children, has a very low sense of self. “If he is not at the top, he sees himself as being ‘nothing’, unworthy and even worthless! He is so afraid of making mistakes, that he finds life intolerable-unless he pumps-out perfection!” Cindy explains.
She adds that the same can be said of children who struggle at school, who give up, dislike learning of an academic nature or are afraid of trying anything new. “They are so afraid of making a mistake that they would, subconsciously, rather get into trouble for their negative behavioural choices than allow someone to see that they need assistance. These children, too, develop feelings of unworthiness and their self- esteem is at an all-time low.”
Cindy believes that it is time for parents and teachers to reconsider age-old patterns of previously learned behaviours which have made the making of mistakes bad, intolerable, reasons for (unnecessary) punishment and a tool to humiliate and embarrass children in the hope that they will change for the ‘better’. She gives parents the following advice on how to give their children the gift of mistakes:
It’s important to understand that making mistakes allows for effective learning, problem-solving and critical thinking. Allowing mistakes encourages imagination, creative thinking and the building of confidence! Mistakes are opportunities to experiment and learn. They help us grow and try new ideas. Making mistakes, contrary to popular belief, is actually a gift to humanity!
Children fear making a mistake, not because of the mistake itself, but rather out of a fear of the reaction it would elicit from the adult(s) in their world! As adults, we need to consider teaching our children to recognise and acknowledge their mistakes and to have the confidence to find solutions that work. After all, Thomas Edison is famously quoted (in his many attempts at inventing the light bulb) that he did not fail in his efforts. He simply found 10 000 ways of how not to make a light bulb. He changed the world!
Parents and teachers need to teach children that making mistakes is a part of life. There is no such thing as perfection. There will be times when we do not achieve top results. And that is perfect in itself. Making mistakes does not have any bearing on who we are as people. Making mistakes is inevitable. Learning to own and embrace these mistakes as wonderful opportunities to learn and grow is a gift!
Parents and teachers need to understand that children are more likely to do what we do that what we say. How we react to mistakes will set the tone for the relationship that children develop with mistakes.
“Mistakes can be a burden or a gift. The choice is yours to make” Cindy concludes.