Let your kids make mistakes!

I read this post today about the importance of letting children make mistakes, by Mama OT. I enjoyed it a lot. I know that I have learned to “sit on my hands” quite a bit although I also know I am often impatient and quick to move things along when I should let things be more “organic”. I’m still perfecting this art, but for whatever reason I ended up writing the longest comment in the history of the world, back to her. It’s currently awaiting comment moderation but I copy/pasted it because gosh darnit, if I am going to write a freaking essay before 7am in the morning, it’s going to not get wasted 😉 By the way I started editing below a little as I was re-reading it then forgot I was supposedly copying a comment, so um, slight variations. You get the picture. 🙂 

Here was my comment response:
I love this! I think as OTs we learn to sit on our hands but a lot of people don’t. I remember once watching a man who had a stroke trying to put on a shirt and it took him like 40 minutes (we were students watching him work with an OT) and I wanted to start screaming because it was so hard not to help. :) I think it’s hard to watch their kids make a mistake without jumping in to fix it before it happens, and when the consequences of that kind of mistake are a pain, it’s even harder! I tend to try to use a middle ground – if I see a mistake about to happen for a kid with a low frustration tolerance, I may intervene just slightly, but if it’s a kid with great problem solving skills, I go ahead and let it happen. Also, I happen to be an OT with lots of my own challenges in the spatial realm, so for example, I had a 1st grade kid recently want to make a “cootie catcher” out of a book he had, and following the directions was hard for both of us. We worked together to problem-solve, with me thinking out loud and showing him what I was trying and why, and him offering his own suggestions, and eventually it worked and we were both thrilled. It was great for him to see us as a team and to see even grown-ups can struggle with things, and that problem-solving can be the key. I should probably be embarrassed I had to be on a team with a 1st grader but A) I have no shame (okay, that’s a semi lie), and B) I know it was a good experience for him.
Finally, I do like to give my kids the opportunity to make plenty of easy mistakes and/or expoloration that doesn’t really have consequence, because as you point out, they learn from their mistakes. Sometimes they may ask me, “Is this right?” Or “Can I Do this?” and my response is usually “Let’s find out and see what happens!” or “Let’s experiment!” so let’s say they try to put a round peg through a triangle hole, to follow along with your thoughts. It may fit, so then it’s great they saw a different way to do something or it may not, and then we can say well I guess that one didn’t work, what can we try next?! :) Pretty much if the child questions something, if the consequences aren’t dire, I have them try it. I don’t just tell them the answer. 
One thing that drives me crazy is when, let’s say, I try to help a child make a minor correction to something, and they instantly let go of the object, ready for me to do the rest for them. It’s clear they’ve learned to give up or get help. I usually help with the minor correction and then make sure they take it back and do it themselves. Or, for example yesterday, I had a little kindergartener girl who decided she wanted to do the gluing, but wanted me to place the cut items on the glue, after she fatigued a little. So rather than argue in this particular case for various reasons, I kind of paused and did it slowly, kind of hovering the pieces near the glue like I had some uncertainty, and she instantly took over for each piece as I went slowly, not even realizing she was doing what she hadn’t wanted to do.
Sometimes “playing dumb” is the best thing you can do – move slowly, seem confused, don’t instantly step in, and let the child either lead or take back the situation. Not to the point that the child assumes you’re insane, but just not using your adult powers to step in and instantly fix an issue.
Well it’s not even 7am and I had no idea I had so much to say on this topic. AHAHAHAHA. I’m going to link it to my blog. Thanks for the post.
Oct 08, 2012 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: none