At this stage in your child’s life, he tries out new challenges all the time.
And making mistakes is part of this process, whether he puts the jigsaw puzzle together the wrong way, drops his cutlery during mealtimes, pronounces a newly acquired word incorrectly or didn’t do well for his exams – that’s all part of learning.
However, these mistakes, whether minor or major, could rattle your three-year old’s confidence and diminish his enthusiasm for the next learning challenge.
That’s why he needs you to teach him how to learn from his errors.
Explain to your child that he has nothing to fear from mistakes, especially when it cannot be blamed on lack of effort.
Naturally, he wants to get everything right on his first try and he gets upset when his progress does not go according to plan.
The danger is, however, that if his enthusiasm and curiosity for new challenges diminishes because he occasionally stumbles along the way, then he’ll start to only value perfection, not effort; he’ll start to think that the final outcome is all that matters, and that the hard work he puts into learning isn’t worthwhile or admirable if a mistake is made at some point.
So take a positive approach to mistakes.
For a start, resist any temptation to protect him from blunders or to make sure he avoids difficult challenges altogether – your instinct is to protect him from hurt and disappointment, and therefore you may try to make life easier for him by steering him away from tough tasks.
But denying him opportunities to learn new skills and to stretch his talents is unlikely to be in his best interests.
Think carefully before making a decision like that.
Instead, encourage him to be proactive. Talk to your child about his plan of action before he actually starts the activity.
Ask him to tell you, for example, how he plans to paint the picture, what colours he intends to use, and where the different parts of his painting will be positioned.
This forces him to think ahead, which in itself will help reduce the frequency of his mistakes.
Explain that mistakes will always be possible, but that if he thinks before he acts, errors are less likely to occur.
It will also help to point out to your young one that everybody makes mistakes sometimes, not just him.
Your preschooler may be surprised at your admission that you don’t always get everything right the first time!
Knowing that you, for example, dropped food on the floor accidentally while making dinner, will provide him with the reassurance that he is not alone in making mistakes. That may never have occurred to him before.
And when he does make a mistake (which is inevitable), comfort him and discuss what went wrong. Use the incident as a learning experience, rather than as a learning setback.
Ask him to talk you through how he approached the task, and to describe his mistake. Then ask him to consider how that mistake might have been avoided.
For instance, maybe he could have planned in advance better, so that all the materials were readily accessible, or perhaps he could have worked more slowly instead of impulsively rushing to get the task finished as quickly as possible. Or he might have tackled the challenge in an entirely different way.
Through this discussion, he’ll develop strategies to avoid making the same mistake the next time round.
Of course you want him to avoid unnecessary mistakes. But by taking this positive approach so that he learns from them, you’ll build up his self confidence and resilience, you’ll improve his coping skills, and you’ll keep his enthusiasm high.
That’s far better than allowing him to sink in a downward spiral of self-doubt.