Children and parents, as well as teachers, need to know that
mistakes are not failures. Mistakes should be regarded as aids
Children who are fearful of making mistakes are not risk
takers. They have a great need to be perfect. Children need to
be encouraged, not expected to pursue perfection. Over concern
with mistakes, often causes children to make more mistakes rather
than less, and, instead of learning from mistakes, they become
In schools, we tend to point out what the student has done
wrong, not what he or she has done right. Students who are
fiercely competitive, or who set unrealistically high standards
may find themselves in an impossible, often very unhappy
situation. If their overambition is the result of basic
inferiority feelings, then these feelings are reinforced when
they make mistakes and do not get an A for their work. Since it
takes time and repeated mistakes to learn a new skill, schools
might be more helpful to students if they encouraged the effort
and graded the final product, not the intermediate steps.
The best motivation for learning is the pleasure in doing
it. Since most of our grading is based on comparing students to
some standard, most of the students’ motivation is to get a good
grade. In many colleges, students will not take a course that
they may enjoy or may be challenged by if they have any feeling
that they may get a poor grade in the course. Students are
working for the grade, not for the knowledge.
This motivation begins in elementary school and is
perpetuated by parents’ attitudes. Parents need ask their
children what they learned or how they enjoyed school, rather
than asking why the child got a B grade and not an A grade.
Children feel the pressure to get the top grades. Some will copy
from others or will change their answers in an effort to cover-up
for mistakes. Many children will not admit to not knowing
something that they need to know in order to take the next step.
They have not developed what Rudolph Dreikurs calls: The Courage
to be Imperfect.
Children need to learn that while improvement is always
possible, perfection is an utopian concept. They do not have to
be better than others or even better than they already are.
Parents can help children with this by admitting that they make
mistakes too. They can create an atmosphere in the home where it
is safe to make mistakes.
Students who set unrealistically high standards for
themselves, sometimes withdraw completely from any challenge when
they face the possibility of failure. They resort to displays of
inadequacy such as saying: I can’t do math. I don’t know how to
spell. Whenever I do that I always do it wrong. I know I won’t
pass, so why try. These students are deeply discouraged and they
convince adults that they are unable and helpless and therefore
not much should be expected of them. They have the mistaken
belief that anything less than perfect is nothing. When they do
not think they can be the best, they give up. These students
act so discouraged that parents tend to agree with them
and feel hopeless and often give up on the student.
In redirecting students who have given up, adults do not
help them by pitying them. It is best to stop all criticism
and to focus on assets. These students need to be
encouraged for any positive attempts. Students who quit
and stop trying sometimes resort to truancy and may escape
through alcohol or other drugs.
Parents too need to develop the courage to be imperfect.
The courage to be imperfect allows you to focus on the present,
rather then worrying about the past. It is best to limit
yourself to what you can do. Do not try to correct or change
too many things. Above all, develop a sense of your own
personal strength and worth.