During my Montessori teacher course we were worried by how a relevant number of children are terrified by making mistakes, or get very angry when they happen – or even avoid them altogether by doing only things they know well. How does it happen that the children themselves become their own tyrannic “teachers”? We discussed about it and many thought that these children see error-free work as the best present for their parents, and the best (only?) way to get approval from them. I don’t want to be harsh on parents here, quite the contrary, because they all want to be great parents and learned valuable lessons from their childhood. What I suspect is that this message about mistakes comes indirectly and diffusely, for example when one of the parents is harsh on himself about a mistake he/she made: the children would naturally do what the parents do, and learn to be equally harsh on themselves. Or it can happen that mistake-free homework or games are highly praised by the parents – then the children try really hard to get that special praise, and have to run this impossible (and unhealthy) challenge.
This post is actually an expansion of Making mistakes – which is more about my own path to embrace mistakes as valuable information.
As usual, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments, I’d be happy to hear your opinion on this topic!
I already knew I didn’t share the same opinion on mistakes with most other people, but only recently I saw it as a sincere misunderstanding.
My upbringing made me hate mistakes. It made me see mistakes as the result of sloppiness, lack of concentration, lack of accurate preparation. It was not imaginable that mistakes can happen despite the best planning: it was always the sign for improving something. I started to fight mistakes with the goal of eliminating them all – I didn’t know it was an impossible feat, but it looked good, because I was always trying to improve!
Sometimes other people would tell me: “Don’t be such a perfectionist! You are allowed to make mistakes!”, but my mind couldn’t understand it properly. There was this translation in my head:
You should be OK with making mistakes from time to time! , which became:
You should be OK with being careless from time to time!
This misunderstanding would not happen with these more articulate explanations:
There are different kind of mistakes and some can be prevented with better preparation, others depend on variables you can’t control (the weather, the audience’s mood, the company’s financial stability…), so your careful preparation could not lead to the best outcome. Afterwards, you can search for the source of the failure: it it’s something you could reasonably prevent, work on that; if not, you comfort yourself with the fact that you did your best.
Even if you can prevent all mistakes (false, but let’s pretend), you should do like all other people who are not perfectionists and let mistakes happen by paying less attention than needed. Try less hard. Make mistakes you could avoid, on purpose. Let others rejoice, because you too look human.
The second explanation appears now to me in all its monstruosity, judgemental arrogance and dangerous implications. I am finally able to accept mistakes that depend on external circumstances, and I am able to accept the mistakes that come from over-working myself to exhaustion – accept them, and see them as warning signs.
Now I can understand Bob Ross and his happy little accidents 🙂
I want to start a series of posts about two sentences who say something about a topic, in slightly different ways. I start with this pair:
accept people for how they are
accept their issues: assume nothing can be done when they look distressed
For me in such cases, words are really hard to match with thoughts. I find there is something very respectful in accepting people for what they are – the opposite would be consistently pushing them to change towards “acceptable behaviour” and “normality”.
Still, I don’t think that it implies that the best choice is to be passive. The second sentence sounds painfully familiar to me. I see a huge difference in stepping in when someone is doing something odd but seems happy with it (reading a lot? drawing minute details? be silent for long bouts of time?), versus stepping in when someone seems unable to cope with an input that makes them suffer (too much noise for them? too much stress? too many interactions?).
I admit that I over-think about this. Especially with kindergarten children, I am always asking myself: am I accepting the child’s behaviour with an open mind or am I passive when I should chime in? Am I encouraging obedience or am I offering support adequately? The same I think about my interaction with adults, because I am never sure if someone is in control of a given situation, or is overwhelmed and would benefit from external help.
I suppose I can learn by experience, but I am relieved that I have put my doubts into words, instead of erring on the cautious (but dangerous) side of non-intervening. I would love to continue exploring this topic with your inputs: please use the comment box below!