Mistakes and what to do about them

From the archives: Posted on 5th September, 1995

Parents sometimes say that they can really see the value of explaining things to even very young children, and that when given all the information, children will often make the right decisions, but that when they choose incorrectly, parents “have to” override their wishes. As I have often argued, this line of argument is all very well – except that they do not apply the same argument in the case of adults.

Secondly, we have to remember that as human beings we ourselves may have made a mistake, and not just willy-nilly assume that we are right and the child wrong. In my case, in these situations, I am invariably wrong. I invariably don’t see that one little piece of information or whatever that makes the difference.

Sometimes children do have better insight than adults. We adults are often so stuck in our ways, think so narrowly, that children really do have a more valuable perspective at times. Usually, we are right, and usually, they listen, and are persuaded by our arguments and reasoning. When they don’t agree, despite having had the benefit of our best arguments, that is when we should start questioning our own arguments, not just assuming it is the child’s that is wrong.

Sometimes parents argue that children need to come up against the consequences of their own mistakes, and that we should let them get on with it, so they learn from that. I’d say that that is only the case if a mistake is unavoidable except by coercion. One has to try everything in one’s power, short of coercion, to minimise the chance of a mistake. Likewise, one should always try to minimise the effects of any such unavoidable mistake, not just let the child suffer in the interests of “allowing him to reap what he sows”.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1995, ‘Mistakes and what to do about them’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/mistakes-and-what-to-do-about-them/