what to do when your child makes a mistake

Put Off The Pep Talk

Resist swooping in with “You gave it your best” or “We’ll practice more so it’ll go better next time,” and first let your child do the talking. “Nothing you say in the moment will make it okay, so allow him to get his feelings out. It will help him to learn from the situation,” says Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist in Bainbridge Island, Washington. If he’s not talking at all, you can give him a hug and nudge a bit by asking him to tell you what he’s thinking. After he has calmed down, you can tell him about a similar mistake you or one of his role models has made

Rethink Compliments

If you constantly praise your child’s performance (“You nailed that backflip!”) rather than her effort (“I’m impressed by how much you’ve practiced for the gymnastics meet”), mistakes become harder for her to swallow, explains Carol Dweck, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Stanford University, who conducted landmark research on kids’ resilience and persistence. In one study, she gave hundreds of fifth-graders a test made for eighth-graders. One group had been previously praised for their effort, and the other group was told how intelligent they were. “The kids who got kudos for their intelligence were upset about how tough the test was while the group praised for their effort coped and performed better,” says Dr. Dweck. “They realized that how hard they worked mattered, not just the end result.”

Learn From Experience

Once your child’s initial hurt has subsided, talk about how he got through it so he can cope the next time. “You can ask, ‘Remember when you felt like this before? What did you do then?’” says Christopher Willard, Psy.D., a psychologist in Boston and author of Child’s Mind. You also can brainstorm together about ways to avoid repeating the mistake. That’s what Tobi Kosanke, of Hempstead, Texas, did when her third-grader, Jemma, forgot a line in the school play. “There was an uncomfortable silence, and when Jemma got backstage at the end of the show, she was so upset,” recalls Kosanke. Later, they theorized that the audience probably wouldn’t even notice a missing line, so it’s best to just keep going. She put that strategy to the test a few months later. “Jemma was performing in a different show and had problems with her microphone,” Kosanke recalls. “But instead of getting flustered, she covered it beautifully.”