Kids and risk-taking

Babies and toddlers naturally take risks.   Watch any toddler navigate through a room and every step is an invitation to connect with the ground.  They wobble. They stumble. They totter here and there while the adults excitedly cheer them on.  We instinctively know that they have to make mistakes and learn how to get up when they fall in order to master the challenge of walking.

Learning to walk is a good analogy for the many skills that children must master to step into the adult arena.  What if we had the same positive and encouraging attitude when students failed a test or missed a catch in a baseball game or were rejected by a friend? Learning anything new requires taking the risk of failing and it also requires learning from those mistakes.

Two things you can learn from mistakes

There are two parts to learning from mistakes.  The first and obvious part is  learning what to do differently so that you don’t make the same mistake again.  Toddlers correct their balance.  They learn to avoid that obstacle that tripped them up. Students can learn to study more effectively.  They can practice their catches or learn how to communicate better with a friend.

The second part is dealing with the feelings surrounding making a mistake. Falling can hurt but once the tears are dried,  it doesn’t keep toddlers from trying to walk again. Helping children recognize and accept negative feelings while moving past them after a mistake is just as important as learning how to avoid making the same mistake again. Children who learn coping strategies  can quickly recover and take the  risks necessary to continue learning.

Some of the new brain research shows that our brain is hardwired to naturally retain negative experiences and to pay less attention to positive ones.  For this reason, it’s important to be intentional about learning from mistakes while focusing on and celebrating positivism and success. There was great wisdom in the old technique of getting right back on a horse once you fell off.  The quick action overcomes the anxiety that can develop and fester the longer you wait to get back in the game.

When we don’t allow students to experience taking risks as young children, when we try to program every experience for success, we short circuit their learning.  Later in life if they haven’t developed the emotional strategies to  cope with failure, they either avoid anything that involves risks or take inappropriate and dangerous risks because they haven’t learn how to differentiate.

Just as falling is a necessary part of learning to walk, learning to cope with failure is a necessary part of learning. Allow  kids to take risks  and fail when they are young and the stakes are lower.  Teach kids to replace “I failed” with “I learned.”

 

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