Ask any Grandmaster and they’ll tell you: The road to chess success is paved with unforced errors, face-palm moments, and flat-out mistakes!
In fact, many psychologists now insist that learning from your mistakes is the best way to hone a new skill. It may not be easy, but encouraging your child to embrace mistakes as a part of life might just be the key to a prosperous future.
In today’s blog, we’ll explore seven ways that you can help your child cope with, analyze, and learn from their mistakes, on and off the chessboard.
1. Coping in the moment
In our blog about sportsmanship, we discussed how making a wrong move on the chessboard can be an emotional experience for young players. Even early childhood students have an innate sense that their intellectual capacity is somehow on display when they play chess, and that making in-game mistakes means they’re not smart.
That’s why it’s important to keep the waterworks at bay. A 2016 study by researchers at Germany’s University of Augsburg found that people who emotionally self-regulate following an error are much more likely to adapt and learn from the experience. Decentering your own emotional response allows you to embrace a rational, evidence-based solution.
So when your child makes a chess move or behaves in a way that they regret, take a moment to help them cool down. Stay calm and give your child time to recover before examining and correcting the mistake.
2. Maintain a “growth mindset”
It should go without saying that berating a five-year-old over a minor oopsie is a losing strategy. That’s because harsh criticism is likely to drive your child away from even attempting a failed task in the future, permanently blocking the road to improvement.
In a 2014 TED Talk, Stanford University’s Carol Dweck discusses this phenomenon and offers “the power of yet” as an antidote to it, an approach to teaching and parenting that transforms mistake-making into a process of discovery.
Maintaining the belief that you simply haven’t found the solution to a problem yet, Dweck says, puts you in what she calls a “growth mindset,” a worldview which embraces setbacks as opportunities to improve. Harshly criticizing your child’s errors fosters what Dweck dubs a “fixed mindset,” in which all mistakes appear to be evidence of limited aptitude. A fixed mindset discourages people from attempting new or challenging tasks because they see failure as a foregone, no-win outcome.
3. Try not to save the day
According to Janet Metcalfe of Columbia University, jumping in and immediately correcting your child’s mistakes without examining how and why they occurred won’t help in the long run. In fact, her 2017 paper “Learning from Errors,” advises teachers and parents on the value of “strong and wrong” mistakes. Metcalfe’s research shows that examining and correcting a confident, but wrong, answer is more likely to promote lasting improvement.
In addition, it’s important your child fully understands what went wrong before they can correct the mistake in a meaningful, productive way. Ask leading questions that allow your child to “discover” the root of the problem, the same way Story Time Chess reveals the rules of chess through stories. In our approach, children arrive at educational goals on their own rather than simply being told what to do from the outset.
To conclude, let the mistake and its consequences play out so your child gains a full understanding of the situation. Then wind back the clock and take an inquiry-based approach that allows your child to come to the desired conclusion “on their own.”
4. Failure is an option!
James Stigler and Harold Stevenson’s 1994 book, The Learning Gap, compared video recordings of eighth-grade math classrooms in the United States and Japan. They found that American teachers, by and large, sought to limit their students’ mistakes and avoid addressing them in-depth.
Japanese teachers, on the other hand, made a point of examining students’ errors before reviewing the correct approach. Stigler and Stevenson theorized that this more analytical pedagogy likely explained why Japanese students were outpacing their American peers in quantitative reasoning.
So how can you use these findings in your own home or classroom? Embrace mistakes.
Instead of swooping in and immediately correcting your child when they goof up, lead them step by step through the events that led to the error, then offer solutions. Nate Kornell’s 2009 study of 70 U.C. Berkeley students found that when participants responded incorrectly in a word-pairing exercise, they improved substantially when the incorrect response was followed by in-depth feedback rather than simply memorizing the correct answer.
5. Reward self-reflection
You know that sinking feeling you get when you mess up? It’s a real thing. In fact, neuroscientists have recently identified a brain response called “event-related negativity” (ERN for short). A mere 50 millionths of a second after you’ve made a mistake, your brain sends out the ERN signal, before you’re even conscious of the flub.
Because our brains reflexively register mistakes, it’s vitally important not to ignore them in our conscious minds either. Your child might instantly, subconsciously know when they’ve erred, so your goal should be to lift that subconscious feeling to the surface through deliberate discussion. Whenever your child self-reports making a mistake, praise that behavior and help them unpack what happened so they can learn from the experience.
6. Lead by example
Chances are your kids see you as more or less infallible, at least some of the time. So make sure to call out your own mistakes and if your child falls short of an expected goal, relate to them by sharing a similar experience from your own life. No one, old or young, should ever feel pressured to be perfect—it’s just not possible!
Leading by example in this way also allows you to model the corrective actions you want your child to take. And providing good examples of how to respond to setbacks can even extend to the books, shows, and movies they take in. For instance, Story Time Chess’s Level 2 Strategy Expansion, provides minigames in which children study chessboards to suss out the best move. Our upcoming Level 3 Tactics Expansion takes it a step further, introducing role-playing exercises that help kids recover from chess mistakes and replay certain moves after analyzing what went wrong.
7. Highlight happy accidents
What do superglue, pacemakers, and the Big Bang Theory have in common? They were all discovered and invented by mistake! Ditto corn flakes, penicillin, and radioactivity. Sometimes what appears to be an error is actually a breakthrough, especially in a complex game like chess.
If your child’s “mistake” contains a silver lining, make sure they know it. Practice this type of positive thinking on a daily basis and set your child up for a lifetime of success through perseverance and optimism.
In short, embrace mistakes but don’t let them slide without discussing their causes, consequences, and corrective strategies. Helping your child develop a healthy relationship to the many shortfalls they’ll experience as they mature will set them on a path to perpetual growth.
Story Time Chess’s ever-expanding offerings are here to support you on that journey. Check out www.storytimechess.com for the best chess and whole-child development products on the market. Have your own tips, tricks, and theories about learning from mistakes? Leave a comment or message us on social media. We’d love to hear from you!