Taking risks and making mistakes are integral to growing up and developing a sense of self. Risk taking shapes our judgment skills, help build our confidence, and develop our emotional intelligence. Yet as parents, we often are conditioned to shield our children from all mishaps, risks, and failure.
You can foster an environment that encourages risk-taking and mistake-making in your child, whether they are just beginning to explore their world or are starting to come into their own as a young adult.
Risk-taking isn’t just jumping off cliffs or swimming with sharks. It’s encouraging them to try new things that might initially seem scary. It’s encouraging them to try something they might not be good at. This may seem like a long road to follow especially when we think we “know” the best route they should take.
But we must remember that this is their road, not ours. We want to broaden their horizons, open up new growth opportunities, and foster independence. When we shield them from all risks and from making any mistakes, we foster dependence and create emotionally fragile snowflakes.
Read on for five ways you can start teaching your children to take healthy risks and not be afraid of making mistakes.
Five Ways To Teach Children To Take Risks and Make Mistakes
1) Help them understand the importance of risk-taking and mistake-making.
Often when we talk about risk, we equate risk with danger. But not all risk involves physical danger. There is, for example, social and emotional risk. Your child could ask someone on the playground to play and get rejected. The point is that we can’t eliminate all risks in our world. Accordingly, you can’t expect to create a world of total safety for your kids.
Yet as parents, we often treat our children as though we can eliminate all risks. We shield our kids from seemingly all risks, from ensuring that our child never loses to never hearing a piece of bad news to making sure our child has no opportunity to get hurt.
But what we’ve created instead is an environment where our kids refuse to act unless they know exactly what will happen. When we foster this paralyzing environment, kids don’t know how to “deal” emotionally with situations that don’t fit within the artificial safety box you as parents have so carefully created.
The only way for our children to learn and grow is to ensure they take calculated risks and make mistakes. It’s okay for your kids to be afraid of failure, but they must put themselves out there and try new things to succeed.
There may be times when as parents, we feel we should step in and protect our children from taking risks we believe they might not be ready for. But as parents, we must understand that our commands for our children not to do something originate from our fears.
We tell our children to stop running because we are afraid. We don’t teach them judgment skills but instead impute our fear on our children.
It’s okay to let them fall. It’s okay if they get a few scratches. It’s okay if they get hurt. They’ll learn. Perhaps then schools around this country will stop replacing recess with gym class.
We will do more in the long run by supporting their growth instead of slowing it down with our fears.
2) Let them make their own mistakes. And remember to own yours.
As much as you want to swoop in and fix their mistakes, letting your child make their own mistakes is essential to having them learn to take risks. While you should be there to support them and help them work through their mistake, they should know how to fix their own mistakes than have you do it for them. This builds responsibility and ownership.
As dads, we must own our mistakes, too. If we make a mistake, we should model it and show our children that we aren’t perfect. But it’s not enough to show we made a mistake for our children. We must also demonstrate how we recover from that mistake.
When we model our mistakes, we teach our children by showing rather than telling. Leading by example is always more valuable.
3) If your child makes a mistake, avoid the temptation to criticize. You’ll do more if you just listen.
Criticizing your child after they’ve made a mistake can have a very destructive effect on them, so tread carefully. Criticizing often has a way of making your child feel ashamed. Shaming them for their mistakes can make them feel like they aren’t good, ultimately setting them back when trying to learn and grow.
When you criticize your child, you run the risk of your child no longer trusting you. They are no longer going to share honestly the mistakes they made. When that happens, you lose the opportunity to parent and teach. Your children will then start internalizing their mistakes and equating them as a character trait. That will cause severe emotional damage over the long run.
Instead of immediately criticizing them when they make a mistake, just listen to them without judgment. Let them know that you are there for them and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Most of the time, your kids already know they made a mistake, but they need to figure out how to fix it.
You may know how to fix it. But the idea must come from your child. Otherwise, when you release that child into the world at 18, you’re not doing anyone any favors. They will not be equipped with the skills or capacity to fix their own mistakes. So instead, they’ll blame others for their station in life.
4) Everyone fails. Get over it. It’s how your child reacts to failure that is important.
By helping your child find ways to embrace their failures instead of letting those failures get them down, you are helping them to avoid the shame, regret, and paralysis that can come with making mistakes.
For example, if your child is learning a new skill and tries hard but fails, you can help them embrace the failure by making something with the materials they have left, like a work of art or a journal entry. Or, if your child is having trouble shooting soccer balls, find some time so that they can practice shooting on you.
Everyone fails sometimes, and a “good failure” is the best way to learn from it and move on. As Rocky Balboa famously said, “But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
As a parent, you must also model failure. Try something new that you aren’t good at so your child can see how you keep working through those failures. If you can both do something you’re not good at, you can push each other to work through those failures and hard times.
When I started burpee workouts, I could only do about 25 reps before being gassed out. Then, my boys and I started working out together, and over time, with hard work, encouragement, and dedication, we all got to a point where we could do 150 burpees in one session.
5) If they’re old enough to ask the question, they’re old enough to get an answer.
Kids don’t come out of the womb expecting to fail or be scared. But these things come with the territory of growing up, and it’s important to let your child know that it’s okay to feel scared or that they might fail.
Yet, society often makes it a habit to shield our kids from anything that might scare them or cause them to hurt from defeat. For instance, some schools had edited out the part in Charlotte’s web when the spider died. In addition, some parents refuse to read their children’s stories with scary endings or show them any bad news.
Put away the kid’s gloves. You’re not doing them any favors.
If your child is old enough to ask a question about something, they’re old enough to get an answer.
Your children pick up a lot more than you think they do. So we must keep the lines open with our children to discuss what makes them scared or whether those fears are based on facts or misinformation.
Take, for example, scary stories in books or shows. They’re books. They’re shows. It’s not real. If there is a tragedy on the news and they want to know about it, talk about it with them. Give them more credit than that.
Talking to your child about their feelings helps them navigate the world around them better because they will have practice dealing with the unknown and challenging things.
In that connection, too, you must be able to feel comfortable talking about your feelings – what makes you scared, what makes you afraid. By identifying the emotions, you are more than halfway to understanding how to overcome those fears. You will also show your kids by example.
Taking risks and making mistakes can be scary and frustrating. But risk-taking and mistake-making are a vital part of growing up. When you help your child foster an environment in which risk-taking and mistake-making are encouraged, you help them feel less afraid of taking risks and making mistakes inherent to growing up.