Let your kids make mistakes. It’s good for their brain!

When it comes to mistakes and failures in kids, as parents, your instinct would be to protect them and ensure they don’t repeat the mistakes again. Some parents offer comfort through words; others offer suggestions to rectify those mistakes. Some of them may get angry at the child. The point is that making mistakes is not viewed favourably and is often stigmatised.

However, if your kid is getting into STEM education and coding for kids and robotics for kids, this approach needs a rethink. Scientific innovations are often the result of numerous trials and errors, and mistakes are an integral part of this exercise.

One reason students fear STEM subjects like mathematics is its emphasis on finding the right solution to problems. When they commit a mistake, they may doubt their mathematical abilities. One can approach mathematical issues with only one correct solution from different perspectives to arrive at the right answer.

However, developments in neurological research are changing our perceptions about mistakes.

In this blog, we tell you why letting your kid make mistakes during their learning process is beneficial for your kids.

Brain Sparks

We often hear that making mistakes is part of one’s learning. However, brain research now reveals how exactly mistakes impact the brain. A study by psychologist Jason Moser on neural mechanisms of students has found that every time our brain makes a mistake, there are two potential responses: the ERN response and the Pe response.

The ERN or error-related negativity response is marked by an increased electric activity when the brain experiences a conflict between a correct answer and an error. ERN response occurs irrespective of whether or not the person is aware of his mistake. Pe response within the brain occurs when the person is aware of having made an error or a mistake.

During these responses, i.e. every time the brain makes a mistake it grows a synapse, a connection between neurons.

The study also found that the increase in brain activity or the sparks was more significant when students made an error than when they answered correctly.

Another important finding from their research was the difference observed in the electrical activity between persons with a fixed mindset and persons with a growth mindset. Individuals with a growth mindset displayed more significant activity in the brain following a mistake than those with a fixed mindset.

It further found that students with growth mindsets showed more awareness of having made a mistake than their fixed-mindset peers. They were more likely to rectify those errors because of the extra attention they paid to their mistakes.

What is Growth Mindset

Leading American psychologist Carol Dweck who has done extensive research on mindsets, talks about what differentiates persons with a growth mindset from persons with a fixed mindset.

Individuals with growth mindsets are those who do not worry about making mistakes. They are willing to work hard and adopt new strategies to learn new things. Such persons believe talents can be developed through hard work.

On the other hand, persons with fixed mindsets believe they possess all the talent. They become too defensive when criticised or resist learning and adapting to new things.

As we mentioned earlier, mistakes help one learn and grow their brain. This growth is more in persons with growth mindsets.

In other words, if a person believes in himself and their capability to learn from mistakes, it will spark more brain activity upon making a mistake. A person who resists learning may show fewer sparks when making a mistake. It is a process that feeds itself.

Noted entrepreneur and author Peter Sims, who has widely researched mistakes and creative thinking, mentions that making mistakes and being imperfect is essential to any creative process. Sims also lists down some peculiar habits of successful people, which are:

1. They are comfortable being wrong
2. Try seemingly wild ideas
3. Are open to different experiences
4. Play with ideas without judging them
5. Are you willing to go against traditional ideas
6. Keep going through difficulties

A Note to Parents

Committing mistakes doesn’t have to be viewed as being a failure. A favourable attitude towards mistakes must start building from home. This is especially so in STEM education and subjects like mathematics, which emphasise too much accuracy. Let your kid be comfortable being wrong and see them succeed.