ADHD, Learn from mistakes; Boy with plaster on head

ADHD: How to help your child learn from his mistakes

Does your child have difficulty learning from his mistakes? In this article you’ll get insights into one of the most common mistakes that we do as parents, that teaches our children to not learn for their mistakes.

Our neighbor living above us in the apartment building had a 3 year old daughter. She was always running around in the apartment and since she was running on her heels, we always knew which room she was in. Dokdokdokdok. Running around.

No problem. We were starting a family as well and knew that we would have our own girl running around like that soon.

Stupid door?

One day it went dokdokdokdokdok-bang, and we could hear that she fell to the floor and started crying. We looked at each other. She okay?

Then her dad came running – also a heel runner – to help her. And because of her crying, he spoke so loud that we could her what he said to her. And he said something that we have used to completely transform our parenting style. In fact, he said something so profound that we still talk about it almost every week, when we hear references to the phenomenon in daily life.

His words were: “Stupid, stupid door! Poor you!”

We looked at each other and went “What?!”

In that one sentence, trying to help his little girl not feel so bad about the accident, he also managed to take away her responsibility in the crash, – and blamed the static door! As if the door stuck it’s side out just as the girl was about to pass it with a safe margin, and hit her in the face with its full capacity.

Come on. Doors don’t do that! Then why did he blame it on the door? And more importantly – what is the long term effect on the girl and her understanding of herself and her responsibility in the world?

Now, you might think that this is a funny story, poor girl, – but what does it have to do with bigger kids, teens or us as adults? We know that doors don’t do that. Riiiight!? Obviously we do know this – with our adult conscious mind, but parts of our subconscious mind are functioning in a different way as we shall see in the next section.

I think that after reading this article, you will realize just how often you and your kids do this exact thing no matter how old you and they are.

And even better, – you’ll have ways to help yourself and your child change the way you think and learn and take responsibility in life.

What is the problem?

There really are two problems. One would be enough, but as the kids get older, the other one kicks in because of the first one.

The first is that fact that we ascribe actions and intentions to things. Not only to other people which would be bad enough, but to things. We’ll say stuff like:

  • These shoe laces are teasing me.
  • The ice cream fell out of the cup.
  • My bike slid on the pavement, so I fell over.
  • The sofa attacked me and sucked me in.
  • School wasn’t fun today.
  • Traffic was acting up today.

And so on. We make (often static) things the initator of the problem.

It is not because I can’t quite figure out how to tie my shoelaced. No. It’s the shoe laces fault.

It’s not because I was deeply entranced by what was happening in the street that I forgot to hold my ice cream cup upright. No. The ice cream decided that it didn’t want to stay in the cup anymore. So it fell out of the cup.

I didn’t drive recklessly on my bike. The bike was unable to hold on to the pavement while I was speeding where there was gravel on the pavement.

You see the picture, I’m sure.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Often times it’s even more obvious in our language that something is wrong:

  • These shoe laces frustrate me!
  • My bike makes me so angry!
  • School just pisses me off!
  • Home work makes me want to cry.
  • Traffic gets the worst up in me.

And so on.

You see what happened there?

Not only did the thing do something to you, the thing actually caused an emotion in you.

Things can’t cause emotions in you, but the words that come out of our mouths are an effect of what is on our minds. There’s a one to one correlation between the stuff that comes out of our mouths and what we are thinking (often subconsciously) and how we have constructed our understanding of the world.

Notice the difference here:

These shoelaces frustrate me. vs. I frustrate myself over these shoelaces.

See who’s doing the frustrating now?

Home work makes me want to cry. vs. I want to cry when I have to do home work.

So when you hear your child start blaming things for his emotions, you can gently guide him to another understanding over time, by repeating what he said back to him, but with him at the active participant in the encounter. Just like in the examples above.

The other consequence is worse

When we teach the kids that the door did it, then we also teach them that the thing that just happened was not their fault. They don’t have to resume responsibility for the crash, and they don’t have to change anything in the future to avoid further crashes.

When they are not to blame, they don’t have to change a thing. This means that they’ll have a harder time learning from their mistakes because subconsciously they are not to blame. Part of them will internalize this and continue to blame outside things or people.

When we let homework get our kids down and we let shoelaces start cascades of emotions in the kids, then they have a hard time realizing that they are the emoting part. They are much better of realizing the causality of things and their responsibility in the world. That way they can learn from it and change their actions.

That way they don’t have to rely on the things around them to create better emotions in them…

Just saying it out loud makes it kind of ridiculous, right?

To sum it up

The consequences of letting things outside of you be at fault work on a deep subconscious level.

  1. The kid becomes a victim. This is serious. You don’t want you child feeling like a victim. You want him to be responsible. Then talk to her like he is responsible.
  2. The kid does not learn from his mistakes. When it’s not his fault, there really is no reason to adjust his own part in this.

One of the most important things that you need to learn to successfully navigate life, is to learn from your failures. What else is there to learn from? When everything is going well, we are in flow. When things go bad, we have a chance to learn from it.

Your part in your child’s learning process in crucial.

You can do like our neighbor and let the child off and let her become a victim of the situation and the viscious door.

Or you can – without blame – inspire your child to learn from the incident.

So – how to do this.

How do you then “blame” your child without turning it into a blame game?

Here’s how.

When the child goes: “The door hit me! Waaaaaah!”

You remain calm and goes: “I can see that. You ran into the door. That must have really hurt you!” or “Ouch, that must have hurt, when you ran into the door!”

This way you return responsibility to the owner and still show the child the proper care.

Then – when the child is ready (and this may be seconds, minutes or hours) – ask the child what he learned from the experience. And let him guide you to understand what must be done differently next time this situation arises.

This will help the child feel empowered and you put him in the “teacher” role, letting him come up with the best possible solution he can imagine. It may not be as good as the one the you can imagine, but it’ll fit with his understanding of the world and his perceived options in it. If there’s far between his solution and a “good” solution, you may want to assist him by giving him open questions to reflect on.

“Are there any other ways that you can avoid getting hurt falling on your bicycle in the turn – other than never bike again?”

Now over to you

Did you notice this pattern in your family/child/you?

How do you help your child change his/her feeling of empowerment in those situations?

Have a great day!


PS. I am doing a followup to this article to tell you about another common pattern that makes it almost impossible for your child to learn anything constructive from his mistakes. Sign up to the newsletter to get the article when it comes out.