Why it’s important for toddlers to make mistakes

As a parent, it totally makes sense for you to want your little one to be as happy possible – no parent likes to see their child sad, disappointed, or upset. But feelings of sadness, disappointment, or frustration are things everyone has to deal with at one time or another – it’s just a part of life. When children try things that don’t succeed right away, it’s not uncommon for them to experience some tough feelings, but making mistakes doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and there are actually a ton of reasons why making mistakes – and even embracing them – is important for a young child’s development.

It’s good for children to have space to struggle

From the time your little one was born, struggle has been a huge part of how they have learned. If you think back on when they were learning how to roll over, or pull themself up from sitting to standing, or taking their first steps, you’ll remember plenty of struggle – and probably a whole lot of tumbling, too – involved in hitting those amazing milestones.

No baby goes from crawling to walking without falling down a whole lot. The same goes for milestones that move beyond motor skills, like learning how to deal with challenging emotions, learning how to handle an argument with a friend, learning how to share, and learning what “no” means. None of this is easy, but in the long run, it helps develop important social and emotional skills, helps a child become self-reflective, and helps build self-confidence and resilience. Toddlers can’t learn that they can succeed by trying hard after failure if they never fail to begin with, and having experience overcoming difficulty helps to build realistic confidence, as well as an understanding of the world around them and their own limitations.

Little ones learn by making mistakes

Making mistakes is often not only not rewarded, and it’s often even frowned upon. Some of this stems from an assumption that if kids don’t get the answers right, they just won’t learn. But if little ones are recognized and praised for effort, even when they make mistakes, studies shows that they actually learn more.

Failure helps build resilience

Making mistakes helps young children learn a wealth of important life lessons, including how to stick with something even if they initially meet with failure. This allows them to be more open to trying new things in the future, to not fear failure, and to not be devastated when they do fail at something, which, of course, they will at some point. Being able to bounce back when things don’t go as planned allows children to learn that they are not their mistakes – they can pick themselves up, try again, and they don’t need to be perfect.

Resilience can be nurtured and encouraged by reminding your little one of these ideas. By empathizing with their feelings when they struggles, by sharing your own failures with them, and by letting them know that failure is a necessary step when moving toward success, you can help promote resiliency in Baby.

Has your toddler tried to half a dozen times to stack their building blocks in a tall, skinny tower just so, only to have them fall down because they keep bumping the base? Let them know that it’s okay if the blocks tumble, talk about what they might be feeling and learning in the process, and remind them that they may have to try a few more times before that tall tower stands just the way they'd like it to.

Getting comfortable with discomfort will be helpful as your toddler grows

It’s not wrong to want to your kid to succeed, and it’s not wrong to feel badly when you see them struggle. It’s also not wrong to sometimes have complicated feelings when your little one fails at something – you too may very well have been raised in a culture where achievement is heavily rewarded and struggle is shameful, and it can be hard to shake these ingrained beliefs. But when young children are given the space to struggle, to make mistakes, and even to fail – all in a supportive and loving environment – it’s hugely beneficial for them in the long run. The life ahead of Baby will surely be full of struggles, both big and small. For them to know that they is supported as they learns, explores, and grows will help them develop into a strong, confident, and resilient child – and flourish in a world that will always bring more challenges.

  • Maureen Healy. “The Resilient Child: Can your child bounce back from failure?” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, July 10 2014. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-development/201407/the-resilient-child.
  • Jamie Howard. “Teaching Children It’s OK to Fail.” PBS Parents. PBS Parents, November 30 2015. Retrieved January 4 2017. http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2015/11/teaching-children-its-ok-to-fail/.
  • Marilyn Price-Mitchell. “Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, September 11 2011. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moment-youth/201109/mistakes-improve-childrens-learning.
  • Kirsten Weir. “Maximizing children’s resilience.” Monitor on Psychology. 48(8): 40-46. September 2017. Retrieved January 4 2017. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/cover-resilience.aspx.
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