31 March 2021
I still vividly remember my first ‘Draw a Christmas Card’ competition at primary school. I had such a grand vision in my head, but my finished picture looked nothing like it. I was so disappointed that I declared myself ‘A Bad Drawer’.
Now, decades on, I have a different mindset. I merrily doodle my way through the day. In speech therapy sessions with children, I’ll often end up drawing Potato Heads, playgrounds or whatever else crops up in our chats together.
So, what’s changed? Partly, it’s the great attention that children give for even the simplest of drawings. But it’s also my desire to model to children how we can be ‘bad’ at something and still ‘have a go’ and enjoy the process.
As a Speech and Language Therapist, I’m regularly asking children to try things they find tricky. An essential part of this is helping them see mistakes as part of the process of learning, rather than something to be avoided.
There’s vulnerability that comes with having a go and knowing we might get something wrong. It’s a hard skill for us adults too. We do plenty to stay comfy and only speak up if we’re pretty sure we’re ‘right’. But how powerful it would be if we taught the next generation that it’s not about being right but about trying our best and learning as we go.
Here’s a few suggestions to nurture the resilience of the children in your care:
* Model your own ‘emotion-free mistakes’ This idea comes from Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, in which she points to the value of persistence over talent. Just like my bad drawings, you might look for an opportunity to visibly make a mistake and be ok with it. Children learn from our responses to situations. This ‘no big deal’ modelling helps our children learn that mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of.
* Talk about mistakes as learning opportunities Children demonstrate natural curiosity about the world and we can use this to encourage trial and error. So, we might respond to a situation with something like ‘Oh that didn’t go according to plan… how interesting!’ or as Carol Dweck would suggest, ‘That was tough, that was fun!’
* Be specific in your praise Instead of a generic ‘Well done!’, look for the thing that you want to celebrate. In speech therapy sessions I’m often saying, ‘I love how you had a go!’ or ‘I saw you looking at my mouth to see how I made that sound’. This emphasis on process over product makes it safer for children to try things out.
* Name your emotions When we name our own emotional responses to situations, we show children how to do the same. Of course, it’s frustrating when you can’t get your message across. And it’s disappointing when you try and fail. Helping children express this is part of how we help them to process and recover from mistakes, so they can be ready to take the next step.
* Point out how we’re all working on skills Humans never stop learning. What’s something tricky that you’re working on? Can you talk about your own practice? Can you point to other people who are practising things again and again? The skate park is always a great example of this in real time.
*Tell stories of resilience A quick search online will give you a wealth of great book suggestions for helping children develop a growth mindset. We all learn through stories and this is a fun way to talk together about challenge and persistence.
Our children are growing up in challenging times, at the intersection of many important and difficult conversations. Now more than ever we need a generation that is up for the challenge, willing to get stuck in to the mess of mistakes that we make whenever we do the hard work.
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