Allowing children to make mistakes builds their autonomy, increases their tolerance for frustration, and teaches them how to manage their emotions appropriately.
Making mistakes is a natural part of any learning process, and it is key to the development of personality in childhood and adolescence. Few adults have doubts about it, and yet many parents try at all costs to prevent their children from falling into error and consequent frustration.
Such an attitude is a perfectly natural and understandable intention that, nevertheless, can have the opposite effect: When a child is overprotected, tolerance for frustration is not trained.
Frustration is something very necessary in childhood, so that little by little we are facing the inconveniences that life brings us.
Preventing children from making their own mistakes is a mistake in itself and it can have serious consequences for their future. It is putting them in a bubble that the only thing it achieves is that they are not able to face the world. But someday they will have to go out alone, and if we delay that moment, the capacities will not be the same and the frustration will be greater, because their ability to manage it will not have been trained.
A 2018 study published in Developmental Psychology, addresses the consequences of overprotection on the child’s development. This research analyzed, for eight years, the evolution of 422 boys and girls in interactions with their parents.
One of the authors’ observations was that, when parents overprotected children without giving them the option of solving their own difficulties, the children had problems managing their emotions, which among other things caused intolerance to frustration.
Whether doing homework, making friends, or playing a sport, learning is benefited by mistakes, which stimulate us to find ways to do things differently.
Overprotection, on the other hand, makes us find children who are more fearful, less autonomous and more dependent on parents; while, in adulthood, it can lead to more vulnerable people.
Sometimes, overprotection will result in greater anxiety, the development of some type of social phobia and depression, and even children to fall into dependent relationships as adults.
As with any other parenting aspect, you need to be aware that, as parents, not only what is said matters, but also -and even more so- what is done.
As much as we say to our children: “Come on, you can do it!”, If then, in the end, we do it for them, the indirect message that can get to them is: “You don’t know”, “you are not capable of doing it … ”, with the corresponding impact on their self-esteem.
That same conclusion was reached by another investigation by the American Psychological Association, which compared two different styles of upbringing: the controller and the one that promoted the autonomy of the minor.
In it, it was observed that, when their mothers were not present, children from families who promoted autonomy struggled to complete the task they had been entrusted with, while children from controlling environments quickly gave up.
Placing error in its natural place is essential so that the little ones do not stop trying and trying new things, for fear of making mistakes.
When children are dependent parents need to help them to handle mistakes, because adults often cover it up in an effort to be “perfect parents”.
But, precisely for this reason, adults end up having stressed children. Parents are wrong like any other person; and more than hiding it, it is necessary to explain it to the children so that they assume that it is natural.
If you have a son who struggles with a task and parents tell him that he is stupid, or that it seems unbelievable that he doesn’t do it appropriately, the fact of making mistakes is going to live as punitive and unacceptable, because “dad gets angry”.
It is the ability to have enough tolerance to frustration where parents need to help their children. Lack of tolerance to frustration is not something exclusive to children. Parents oftentimes do not carry their own in the best way possible. Many times, working with that father or mother so that he can manage it differently, will positively impact their children.
Another important factor is to have a positive vision of the attempt. To the extent that the person feels they can, they will carry out actions on their own to achieve what they want or need.
It is a learning and training process in which the partial successes, the approaches to that final objective to be achieved must also be recognized. For example, perhaps a child already knows how to hold the spoon well, but twists his arm and spills the contents by bringing it to his mouth.
Another reason to let children make mistakes without adults intervening is that flexibility is thus trained in the face of unforeseen events, something essential in adult life.
That is why specialists recommend promoting the minor’s autonomy, asking them for things appropriate to their age, such as doing household chores or errands outside of it, when they are somewhat older.
If you teach a four-year-old boy that dirty clothes go to a certain place, he can do it. If he throws the milk, or has a tantrum and decides to dismantle and throw a puzzle on the ground, he has to pick it up.
As much as possible, it is convenient to avoid situations in which mom or dad do it, despite the fact that sometimes they want to do it to solve the situation quickly.
Obviously, it’s not about picking up a three or four-year-old boy and ordering him to pick something up, because they still don’t know. Therefore, the best way to do it is to start by accompanying and serving as a model.
If he does not know how to make the school backpack, for example, help him prepare it, then make a list together so that he can do it alone and then the father or mother supervises him.
Above all, it should be remembered that children can do many things and that their natural way of learning is by playing, so introducing it in a fun way -like picking up toys by singing a song- can be very useful.