Kids – Are They Learning From Their Mistakes?

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, July 05, 2017
By Michelle Gonzalez, PSY.D., LMHC

As parents, we often forget that kids are kids and they will learn from their mistakes. The question is, how do we make sure our children are learning from the mistakes they make? The answer is simple. We need to make sure that we are modeling, giving them options, and negotiating with them. 

Unfortunately, all of our children will face ongoing struggles. They will also encounter obstacles. This is a part of life. As parents, we have all faced tough situations and our children will too. We cannot eliminate these struggles from our children’s lives, but we can make them grow and learn from these struggles by using the techniques I mentioned earlier.


Modeling, as defined by the online Psychology Dictionary, is “a strand of behavioral modeling whereby learning occurs through observation.” This technique is the hardest by far. Why is it the hardest? As parents, we don’t always practice what we preach. 

Sometimes, when we are angry or frustrated with someone or something, we may talk on the phone in front of our child while they are playing or eating dinner. We may think that our child did not hear anything we said, but the reality is that he/she heard everything. A child can repeat everything you say word by word (just ask a teacher). In a situation like this, apologize to your child and show them that you made a mistake and tell them why. If you do not want them to justify their mistakes, then do not justify yours. Help them understand why you acted the way you did and tell them what you should have done instead. If we provide our children with examples of mistakes that we may have made in the past and the ways that we learned from them, we are helping them learn how to cope with their own. 

As parents, we have to remember that our children pay attention to everything we do. We have to follow our own rules in order for our children to do the same. We must look at what WE ARE DOING in order to know WHY our children are behaving a certain way. This means that as parents we need to be actively and regularly involved in our children’s lives. Our family is what teaches our children about character and morality, which in turn help them deal with problem solving.


Providing children with options helps to minimize conflict at home and at school. For instance, if you were to go into a primary classroom, you will see that the students who are allowed to make choices deal with mistakes and failure better than those who are not given the chance. Why? Children who are provided with options have a better self-esteem. Giving children options doesn’t necessarily give them freedom because if you look at it, you are the one controlling and monitoring what they do. Giving them options only helps them feel independent and responsible. 

So now we can ask ourselves, how can we as parents offer better choices to our children? First, the options must be something meaningful to your child. Second, limit the choices to only two things so that your child can choose what is best for him/her. For example, if it is cold outside and your child does not want to wear pants, instead of arguing with him/her say, “do you want to wear the jeans or the sweatpants?” If you have an older child, you may simply say, “Can you think of a better way to do it?” Try to put yourself in their shoes and remember that if you are not sure, it’s okay to get help from someone else.


One question that parents always ask is “How do we negotiate with our kids?” All kids try to negotiate in some way with their parents. Whether it be a little one who does not want to take a shower or an older one who wants more freedom to go places. There are ways to come up with a solution, but we must teach our children to negotiate. If a child does not learn how to negotiate, then he/she is going to have a hard time making decisions as they get older. 

If you have young children, it goes back to offering options. By offering options and asking close-ended questions, you are allowing your child to negotiate with you. If you have older kids, you may simply want to be more flexible. Whether it is with curfew or going to the movies, let them know that you are willing to work with them as long as they understand you. You can even make suggestions about your expectations and they will be more responsive to you.

I feel that by simply getting your child involved, negotiating issues in age appropriate ways, writing down or drawing solutions in a journal, and explaining your point of view are ways that you as a parent can help your child to learn how to negotiate with you and others. Remember to take the time and listen to your children. 

In conclusion, no matter what our children are faced with remember there are always options available. There are always things that you can do to move children in the right direction. Kids need to learn how to fail and they need to learn how to succeed.