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Stop Making Mistakes

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the way that the fear of making mistakes paralyzes and causes anxiety, depression and the feeling of failure.

First a quick update:

“Kerri–Anne Kennerley TV show Australia”
I will be live on Kerri-Anne’s Morning Show Monday September 12, sharing insights about relationships between mothers and daughters, and the impact that dads have on daughters

Look online this week for my responses and revelations about the reasons some men lie, cheat and won’t commit

Now, let’s talk about not making any mistakes.

While visiting Australia I was invited to teach and give a talk to grade 5 and 6 children at Clyde Primary school. The teachers choose the topic “Confidence and Resilience.”

Having taught in other schools, it’s quite typical that at the beginning of my talk, the most confident, extroverted and outspoken children will be the first ones to raise their hands to answer a question or give their opinion. But with the desire to get everyone involved, I will, and do put children on the spot; pointing to a child who hasn’t yet raised his or her hand, I ask him or her to standup, tell me his or her name and then answer the question.

As you can imagine, some children shudder at this, particularly when facing the fear of the way that their peers might judge or ridicule them. However, by the end of my talk, I ensure that every single child has stood up and answered a question. One teacher expressed her surprise to me that every child had participated – even the ones that don’t usually talk.

What is it, though, that is required to give children the confidence to raise their hand or even speak when they are unsure if they have the correct answer?

Create the safe place where they feel they can freely speak, express themselves and make a mistake without being mocked, criticized or ridiculed.

One child, stood up, paused, fumbled over a few words and then said to me “I don’t know.”

‘You do know. You just haven’t thought about it yet.’ I said.

He sat down with a slightly perplexed look on his face.

At times, the students would be, as expected, noisy or disruptive while a fellow student was giving his/her answer.

‘Hey, Jane is giving her answer. Jane is speaking. We want to hear her’ I would say with a deliberate and powerful voice for the entire class to hear.

The more often I did that, the more they understood that what everyone had to say is important.

Eventually, almost everyone was excited and eager to answer a question and have their say.


My message and inference is ‘It’s okay to make a mistake’ and ‘your thoughts and ideas are important.’

Interestingly, the subject of making mistakes is a commonly occurring theme in therapy with my clients.

Very few people were taught as children that it is okay to make mistakes.

Rather than teaching children to learn from mistakes, many parents easily and quickly rush to punish the child for making mistakes often by responding with a stern look of disappointment, a harsh word, criticism or some other emotional response that crushes the child’s spirit.

And thus, the child shuts down, becomes introverted, is afraid of expressing him or herself, experiences anxiety and often simply doesn’t feel good enough.

As he or she grows up, she:

  • Takes less risks
  • Avoids confrontations (standing up for herself)
  • Becomes a perfectionist and is highly critical of herself and of others
  • Suffers from anxiety
  • Has an extreme fear of failure and thus gives up easily or holds back
  • Doesn’t feel like he or she has voice or opinion
  • Is afraid to express herself
  • Behaves in the way that she thinks others want her to behave
  • Seeks other peoples’ approval or subconsciously resents other people

The underlying theme here is expectations – the expectation by a parent or parents that the child must be perfect, make no mistakes and do no wrong. And the ultimate result is that the child is unable to freely express him or herself, never experiencing that freeing feeling of being him or herself.

I teach that a parent’s responsibility is to raise a child to his or her full potential. And when a parent instills in a child the fear of failure and making mistakes, the result is that the fear paralyzes the child.

So what is the solution?

Praise, encouragement, support and feedback.

Most parents have the best intentions at heart and believe that they are doing the best for their children. But all parents come with limitations – the limitations of human imperfection and poor programming. If your parents were harsh, condemnatory and judgmental, then there is a good chance that you will pass onto your children what you were taught.

If you never received praise, encouragement, support and feedback, then it is hard to show what you don’t know.

So, how can you demonstrate the above behavior to a child or even to your family, friends or colleagues?

Praise is giving a compliment for an achievement; acknowledging an accomplishment or effort; expressing appreciation and gratitude.

Tip: Praise the qualities in the person not just the result. By praising the qualities, the person is more inspired to express and develop those qualities.

Encouragement is simply expressing a belief in another’s abilities and potential.

Tip: Simply saying the words “I believe in you” is extremely powerful and impactful because it inspires courage and motivates a person to keep going.

Support is simply expressing the belief that you are on the person’s side and you can demonstrate this by attending events (being present, showing up), listening and expressing sympathy, empathy or compassion.

Tip: Your presence at a child’s event is more important, critical and meaningful than any presents you might give to a child.

Feedback is helping the other person to see something they previously didn’t by gently advising and giving a new perspective.

Tip: Ask questions. “How did you feel about today’s result? Are you open? May I share some insights and feedback?”  Also, when giving feedback about a behavior or mistake – including bad ones – separate the action from the person. “What you did was bad/wrong/hurtful/stupid” but avoid calling the person those words – particularly a child who will accept your words as truth about him/herself.

At Clyde Primary School, I taught the children that confidence is the belief in your own abilities, based on your skills and knowledge, and that no matter what happens, “You will be ok!” and; resilience is the ability to bounce back.

Accordingly, you can inspire confidence and resilience in your children and the people around you when you create the safe place for them to be human and to make mistakes. And when you convince someone that his or her ideas, opinions and feelings are significant, then he or she opens up, expresses herself, realizes her full potential and experiences joy, success and happiness.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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