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  • Heather Bragg

    Focus on mistakes to help your child learn

    Noting the mistakes your child makes with school assignments can inform how to better teach concepts in a way he or she will understand.


    If you are the parent of a child who is struggling with learning and/or attention and you are not getting support, answers or a plan of action from the school, you are not alone. Approximately 20% of school-aged children face some learning challenge during their academic careers. That’s 10 million children in the U.S. alone!

    Many children, especially those without a diagnosis or clear-cut, identified challenge, are often not given the necessary support for their learning needs in the school setting. They fall through the cracks.

    Even good schools are often underfunded and understaffed, making it difficult to address the needs of all children. Parents face frustration and anxiety as they look to the school for guidance, often receiving vague feedback, conflicting advice and discouraging remarks such as “Just wait it out” or “Your child just isn’t trying.”

    We live in an age where parents need to take the wheel, armed with an understanding of the nuances around their child’s learning needs. How can parents do this?

      First, it helps for parents to understand…

    • Input (how children are taught)
    • Output (how children are assessed)
    • Cognitive processing (how memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning and executive functioning play a role in learning)

    How does this information help? Because looking into what is tricky for our kids—and what types of mistakes they tend to make—is the game changer.

    When children are struggling to learn, it is often because they misunderstand the concept or use inefficient strategies. To course-correct their learning, we need to first undo the ill-suited understanding or strategy and then teach (or reteach) a better approach.

    This can be a big task, and many parents feel apprehension when asked to dissect their child’s learning. But it really is up to us if we want the best for our child’s education. Plus, decoding how your child learns does not have to be overwhelming; on the contrary, it can actually be an insightful and interesting process.

    With 25–30 kids in a class, teachers often do not have the opportunity to catch—and analyze—every mistake made by each child. When we parents sit down to do homework with our kids, we readily catch the mistakes! In her new book, The Strength Switch, How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen To Flourish, Dr. Lea Waters states that parents are hardwired to see a child’s flaws. So if we are programmed to quibble, let’s at least use this tendency to our advantage!

    By no means am I suggesting that we nitpick our children over their schoolwork. Rather, we should take notes on what types of mistakes our children make, then request a meeting at the school to discuss what would help our struggling learner. Armed with specific information as to our child’s struggles, we are much more likely to get our school to intervene quickly and use the most effective methods for our child’s precise area of difficulty.

    Like my parents, we moved into an area because of the quality of the local school. Underlying our decision on where to live was the assumption that if we lined up a quality school for our child, his education would be on auto-pilot. But many of us find out the hard way that our involvement is crucial, and that no one can help our child like we can. 

    Related articles:

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    Play all day? That's exactly what your preschooler should be doing

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    Heather Bragg

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