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Help your kids find the ‘magic’ within their mistakes

Natalie Costa by Holly Jones
Natalie Costa by Holly Jones

by Natalie Costa

Natalie is the Founder of Power Thoughts, and has been described as a ‘confidence coach for children’. In this article she takes us through tools to help your little ones bounce back from ‘failure’.

Making mistakes is not something that children easily embrace. Homework, spellings or piano practice can quickly escalate into what symbolises a ‘mini war zone’, as children struggle to solve problems, fall short when spelling those ‘tricky words’ or they just can’t seem to hit that note. This often results in tears and meltdowns, causing feelings of despair – and not just for our children but also for us as parents too!

And then, let’s be honest. How often have we as adults, held ourselves back from the fear of failure? From the fear of embarrassment of what others would think? From the fear of not being successful with a new venture, new relationship, etc? I’d hope not too much (or in my case I’m always a work in progress!) but even with all our adult knowledge and experience, the fear of failure still makes an appearance.

However, it’s usually within these setbacks and challenges where the real magic occurs because it’s through our ‘failures’ that we’re able to reflect, review and gain new insight (hindsight can be a wonderful friend.) We’re able to see things in a new perspective and identify things that were not clear before. If we choose to, we can allow our failures to help us grow and identify the next steps we need to take, so that we can try again.

I know first-hand just what a ‘good friend’ failure can be. It’s helped me build the business I have today (after a couple of ‘failed’ first attempts in other areas), it’s given me the confidence to try new ventures, to say “yes” when I really wanted to run the other way and say “no”, and it has also helped me when it comes to my relationships with others. Whilst many of the lessons were long and painful (many tears and sleepless nights), Iooking back I’m able to see that those ‘failures’ needed to happen as they’ve led me to where I am right now – it’s built my resilience, my ‘muscle of grit’ as well as slowly helping me grow in confidence and self belief. ‘Failing’ has also taught me self-knowledge, and self-insight. And these are exactly the skills and qualities that we want for our children.

Too often children share with me that they’re afraid of getting things wrong. They worry that others are ‘better’ than them and that if they’re struggling with a piece of work, it must mean that they’re simply not ‘clever enough’. I’ve witnessed time and time again how children hold themselves back because this fear of making mistakes stops them from having another go and reaching their full potential. So the question is, how can we get our children to lean in towards making mistakes, rather than running away from them?

Below I share four proven strategies that will support your child to look for the ‘magic within their mistakes’ and shift their attitude from “I can’t” to one that says, “Bring it on! I’m ready to have another go!”

1. Calm the Circuits

It’s important to keep our brain calm so that it works for us, rather than against us. If we react to the intense emotions when we feel frustrated, we kick our brain into the ‘flight, fight or panic response’ and this stops us from thinking clearly. Encourage your children to tune into their breath as a way to keep calm. Deep belly breaths lowers the feelings of frustration or worry and helps them think clearly instead – they’re able to keep their ‘Thinking Brain’ (pre-frontal cortex) engaged while their ‘Feeling Brain (amygdala – the emotional ‘hub’ of the brain) stays calm. I encourage children to use their breathing on a regular basis and explain that this helps us to ‘take back’ our power, rather than give our power away to our big feelings. Try this exercise together – I call it ‘belly breathing’. Breathe in through your nose for three counts, filling up your belly with air and breathe out through our mouth for five counts, as if you’re blowing out a big bubble.

2. Stretching my brain

Children often allow their mistakes to become a reflection of their self worth, e.g.: “I got 4 / 10 for my spelling, so I must be rubbish at spelling.” However, once children understand that their brain actually gets ‘stronger’ when they are tackling challenging tasks, they are able to view the challenges as an opportunity to grow and ‘stretch’ their brain. Our brain is malleable and it’s able to create and grow new connections. Explore with your child when they’ve previously struggled with a particular activity (like learning how to ride a bike, or swim on their own) and write down all the little things they learned as they practiced and improved. Keep this as a visual reminder of all the ‘new connections’ their brain had to make in order for them to succeed in this area. (And remember, we as adults experience the ‘brain squeeze’ too – when we might be facing something challenging but ultimately grow from it).

3. Power Questions

Instead of saying, “Why me? Why can’t I get it right?” – encourage children to ask empowering questions instead such as, “What can I learn from this? How will this help me grow? Who can help me with this?” Asking these open questions encourages the brain to search for solutions and new opportunities, empowering children to take action.

4. Celebrate the ‘Yes moments’! 

View mistakes as learning opportunities and ‘celebrate’ them – I encourage children to do a silly dance or call out, “Yes!” whenever they’ve made a mistake. Help your children reframe their mistakes as new learning opportunities and encourage them to record their ‘yes moments’. I ask children to write down their mistake and then record their ‘yes moment’ – what did they learn from the mistake? (E.g. Mistake: “I kept falling off my bike. ‘Yes Moment’: I now know that I need to pedal a little faster and also look ahead, instead of down at my feet.) By visually seeing their ‘yes moments’ they are reminded of what they have learned and over time they will have a running record of their new learnings!

Above all else, encourage your child to have fun, laugh and celebrate the small wins. The bumps along the way are not there to slow us down, but rather to help us to learn and grow. By learning to embrace the challenges with a sense of curiosity, it encourages our children to be more open and receptive and it also helps them bounce back quicker when those setbacks occur.



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