Behavior Blotter: Are We Teaching Coronado Kids to Fear Making Mistakes?

In the last month, I traveled with two classes (6th and 7th graders) to their school camps.  I chaperoned the groups and also had the opportunity to teach them a module on collaboration and communication using fun and interactive games in the woods.  For example, one of the games is a human knot where they have to untangle themselves without using words to communicate  It was during the general chaperoning where the kids were asked to do a simple task or activity, that I noticed the following.



Kids fear making mistakes, and therefore ask multiple and defining questions before starting a task.  As adults, we are, directly and indirectly, rewarding them NOT to take risks.



During each week of my experience, the kids were involved in all sorts of activities and tasks, such as scaling a tower, learning about botany, marine biology labs, horseback riding, kayaking, and snorkeling.  For each activity, there are numerous rules and safety briefings to make sure the kids can have fun and learn safely.  Usually, the briefing before the activity lasts a relatively long time (about the same amount of time as the allotted activity).  One would think that by the end of the briefing, the kids would be READY to GO!  Instead, what I noticed was fascinating:

  • Many of the kids I interacted with, had questions like “If my flipper comes loose, can I just fix it in the water?” or “Can I stand in the kayak for fun?” and “Do we have to answer these questions in full sentences?”  When I heard these questions, I thought to myself, ‘why can’t they just go do it?’ Is it because they think they’ll get in trouble if they just act on their own instincts?  It seems as though educators, punish mistakes a lot more than they reward action itself.  I understand that children are being shaped to conform AWAY from unwanted behavior however I don’t see how they are being encouraged and rewarded for embracing their instincts and thinking on their feet. 
  • Another example of this behavior is when I asked, “How did you get your friend to be more comfortable in the kayak?” they answered, “I used communication skills.”  Well great.  Thanks.  I feel like regurgitating words or concepts they hear in the classroom shows they are just trying to ‘get the right answer’ rather than take a risk and tell me what ACTUALLY happened.  



The only risks I see kids taking are when adults are NOT watching and sometimes that leads to unsafe environments for others resulting in harsher punishments.


Let’s allow kids to take risks, feel vulnerable, and get the answer WRONG once in a while.  Reward them for taking a risk emotionally or with an insight.  Innovation doesn’t come from having ONE right answer – it comes from people being creative and taking risks to find the truth.  Confidence, self-awareness, public speaking, and other leadership qualities come from taking risks, not conforming to everyone else.


Now it’s YOUR turn:

What do you think? Are kids in Coronado, or elsewhere, trained to regurgitate the answers we WANT them to hear?   Are they encouraged to take risks? 




Akshay observes and writes a weekly blog on everyday human behaviors. He facilitates workshops on leadership, communication, and team work for adults and children with Ziksana Consulting.

Views: 381

Tags: Coronado, behavior, communication, community, kids, leadership, people

Comment by Pat Cooley on October 1, 2011 at 9:44pm
Oh, from early on, we don't want our kids to cry.  We don't want them to experience any anxiety.  We don't want to say no.  We have to protect them from EVERYTHING bad.  It might hurt their self esteem if we say no.  They might think they are not perfect, like we perpetuate.  Life is full of anxiety, let them experience it early, let them know they can handle problems, give them some strategies.  Oh, no everything is wonderful, perfect, so good... we feed them this daily.  "I like the way you ate your pancakes."  Yep, this is what I heard at a restaurant.  Do we need to say silly things like this?  Positive reinforcement has gone the direction of ridiculitious.  Say NO and mean it.  Let them know when you are upset with their behavior. Have meaningful consequences and follow thru. Oh, yes, teachers have to follow this, too, since the parents think their child is "perfect".  You better have video proof that a kid has done something inappropriate otherwise the parent won't believe it.  "My kid would never do that."  Parents don't want their kids to make mistakes and they don't believe it if you tell them they have.  This is a hodge podge of ideas... hope you can make some sense of it.
Comment by Deanna Latendresse on October 2, 2011 at 8:35am

I think I fell into the "helicopter parent" role until I took the parenting class offered a Village with Debbie. It absolutely changed the way I parent.


The book "Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World" was used in the class. One of the many topics discussed was "Developing Strong Perceptions of Personal Capabilities" which is a fancy way of saying "let them learn from their mistakes.....let them try". I still have my moments....but I'm getting better :)

Comment by Brian on October 2, 2011 at 10:36am
Another GREAT book about this is called Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  Their opening chapter is titled "the inverse power of praise."  As a parent and teacher I can tell you this book is amazing and I highly recommend it!
Comment by Pat Cooley on October 2, 2011 at 12:41pm
These suggestions for reading are terrific.  Thanks Deanna and is so good to get this important feedback out to parents.
Comment by Melissa Perkins on October 3, 2011 at 9:00am
Bravo!  Something I've been saying for years!  In an effort to both protect our children and teach them to conform we've gotten away from raising independent and self-aware people.  Then we turn them loose on the world as adults who haven't a clue how to operate unless given a specific set of parameters.  I truly believe my generation is the last one where the majority of our parents taught us not only to be good people but also to be self-reliant.
Comment by Lei Udell on October 3, 2011 at 1:20pm
I think Akshay has an interesting hypothesis; I wonder, WHY are kids afraid of making mistakes, and I assume, since they aren't born with that, it's because we as parents (unconsciously, most likely) have taught them to be afraid of ALL mistakes, instead of just the life-threatening kind.  It's as if the stakes are so high that a bad grade on any assignment is too terrible to risk.  It's our own emphasis (of course, reflected in the world around us) on "grades" instead of on the learning process that has lead to this.  It does not bode well for the ability of our students as adults to deal with new problems and situations as they arise, when there is no one around to go to for the "right" answer!
Comment by brookers on October 3, 2011 at 1:58pm

I find this subject very interesting. I think all kids (and adults) need to learn how to think on their feet more and respond to new situations without fear.  I was google stalking Akshay and it looks like he teaches these skills in his workshops with Ziksana:  What a great opportunity it would be to have these types of workshop opportunities available on the island to both students and adults.


Comment by Mary Sands on October 5, 2011 at 6:34am
"My Generation" was raised by very authoritative Parents.  You were "expected" to do as you were told.  I was a bit of a "Rebel" who was not afraid to offer my "opinion!"  That was not "the norm."  I have observed Parents today, giving their Children "instructions" regarding every simple thing they do.  I have observed Parents today praising the simplest gesture, while "correcting" in front of others the Child's "mistakes."  I have observed young Adults experiencing difficulties in making their own decisions, as they were never given this opportunity while still living at home.  As a result, their lives are unnecessarily more difficult when challenging times arise.  There is something to be said for providing guidance to our Children, for giving them the opportunity to make choices and be responsible for those choices, for treating them with Dignity versus calling them out, in front of others, for their "not measuring up!"  I applaud those parents that provide a loving supportive, but not controlling environment for their Children.  Giving their Chldren age appropriate responsibilities versus just giving them everything "Carte Blanche" is admirable.  Having "appropriate" responses for inappropriate behavior, being supportive of good efforts versus "expecting" perfection......all important.  We all learn, as we go, in many instances, regarding raising our Children.  I hope that Parents struggling to do the right thing will be wise enough to realize their Children are not extensions of the lives they may have "wished"  they themselves had led, that "their" Children must be the "best" Student, Athlete etc.  It's difficult for a Child to be given choices if they have never quite "measured up" to Parental expectations.  Yes, they "fear" being wrong, as that may be their "experience."  Thanks for your patience with my "soap box."

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