Thoughts from Daniel Franklin, PhD, BCET

We Don’t Make Mistakes, We Make Decisions

For many years I have observed that parents, teachers, and other adults recite the maxim, “We learn from our mistakes,” when a child makes a decision that leads to an undesirable outcome. Clearly, the intention is to help the child not feel bad about what may have gone wrong in hopes that the event will translate into a learning opportunity.  

It has been my experience, however, that when we characterize things children do as “mistakes,” it transforms the overall experience into a negative one.  

Some years ago, I began to shift my response from “We learn from our mistakes,” to, “We don’t make mistakes. We make decisions, and each decision informs the next.” By framing what has occurred as a decision and not a mistake, we keep the experience positive. The word “mistake” pulls down and disempowers the child whereas the word “decision” lifts up the child and is empowering. 

The next time you are working with a child and something does not go as planned, try shifting the focus to “decision-making” instead of “mistake-making” in order to give the child a sense of agency. Having a sense of agency is one of the most critical mindsets required to prevail in the face of challenges and is essential for building resilience.


copyright Daniel Franklin, PhD, BCET