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MARIANNE BRIGHT COLUMN: How to help kids learn from mistakes

By Marianne Bright, for the SNAP

We all fail from time to time. That can be hard for kids because they want to impress us and they want us to be proud of them. When something goes wrong, it’s easy for many of them to see disaster rather than opportunity.

But how can we help them when they despair over a poor test score, a missed goal, a disappointing performance or a knuckle-headed decision?

Marianne Bright

Here are some tips.

Chill — Our reactions are critical. When we fly off the handle about a poor report card grade, we risk pushing kids away when we need to keep them close. Keep calm, talk and then listen.

Recognize the mistake — Help kids recognize the disappointment. Ask them a simple question: “What do you think went wrong?” Most of the time, they already know.

Set goals — Decide together on a timeline, specific actions and ways to check progress: “By next report card, we’re going to raise that algebra grade one letter. You’re going to have an additional 30 minutes of study time per night Sunday through Thursday. I’m going to monitor your quizzes and email your teacher regularly.”

Have rewards — Everyone is motivated by rewards, so your kids should have a couple to work towards. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, but it should be fun and motivating. Consider encouraging them with some extra curfew time or a bit of money contributed to a special dream.

Have consequences — Consequences work just as rewards do. They shouldn’t be nasty, but they should be effective, such as an earlier curfew time or a temporary cut in allowance. These days, one of the most effective consequences is forbidding electronic time for a specified period: “If it has a screen, uses electricity or batteries, you can’t use it until quiz grades improve.”

Have role models — Role models come naturally for kids. Besides the athletes and celebrities who get so much of their attention, show them realistic, inspirational, maybe even local people or family members whom they can emulate. Tell your kids why you admire these folks.

Set a good example — Let kids know that adults have discouraging moments, too. When things don’t go as planned, let kids know you’re disappointed, but you’re going to work hard to fix it. Seeing us stay positive and determined helps.

Get help — Sometimes a little professional help is called for. If the algebra grade is still low even after increasing homework time, studying with friends and really putting in the work, it’s time to call in the experts.

Show how you’ve learned — Talk about experiences in your life when you’ve faced similar school-age setbacks, embarrassments or flubs. Tell what you did to help yourself. Feeling less lonely is a step to increased confidence.

Stay involved — Make it your business to know when major tests are given, when the science fair is scheduled, when important projects are due. Help your kids stay organized and keep to their timelines. Nag them when all else fails. When you’re informed, you’re involved, and nothing is more powerful than parental involvement.

Marianne Bright has been a franchisee of Sylvan Learning Inc. for 13 years, operating her primary center in Albemarle and a satellite location in Locust.