Parenting Mantras

Mistakes and the PDCA Cycle

creative-childThink of the last mistake you made. When you were about to do this thing, you thought it was a good idea at the time. You may even have had some apprehension about the thing, but you did it anyway. After the fact, you look back and realize that it was the wrong decision. If you are like me, you will start to ask “why was it wrong” and “why did I think this was a good idea at the time”. The whole goal is to make sure that if the situation occurs again, that I apply what I learned from the mistake to make sure I get a different outcome.

In the process improvement world, there is a methodology called the Deming Cycle. In its simplest terms, for any given change, you can Plan-Do-Check-Act: Plan the activity, Test to make sure the activity works in the given scenario, Check to make sure the results are what you had initially desired and then Act upon those results either by implementing a change or, if the results of the last phase were not what you wanted, head back to the drawing board to find a better solution. While its a geeky representation of life, I believe it is a great way to think about mistakes.

For example, my last larger mistake was to purchase a home based on emotion rather than a sound financial / life advancement decision. After we got married I wanted to settle down and at the time, I thought buying a home with my husband was a great way to do that. So – we bought the first home that spoke to us, for a LOT of money. These two activities represent the “Plan” and “Do” phase. The Check phase was interesting – it took about 18 months to realize that this wasn’t for us and when we tested all of the parts of our life that could be making us unhappy, we determined that the house was the culprit. We “tested” a lot of things – going out more, going out less, spending more time outdoors, setting up a savings plan, reducing house projects. Ultimately, we decided that we did the wrong thing in the “Do” phase if our goal was to maintain a simple, happy life. So we Acted and sold the house. We evaluated what we really wanted: a life with minimal financial stress, a cozy, right-sized home, the ability to spend a weekend outside hiking rather than doing house projects. We implemented this and are a whole lot happier!

I have never regretted a mistake. Even with the house, I tend to review situations for the lessons learned and then move on with the new information tucked into my back pocket in the event that the situation ever arises again. I have learned SO MUCH from my mistakes: who to hang out with, who to date, who to marry, where to live, what to do for a career, what not to do for a career, what to eat, where to travel, ect. And I think the key point to this is that I learned it on my own.

When it comes to kids, I have an uneducated belief that there is a need for mistakes to happen and for the kids to make the mistakes and learn the lessons themselves. They need to learn to Plan-Do-Check-Act on their own and start to trust their own judgement. While there is definitely a safety line that shouldn’t be crossed, I believe they need to get into a little trouble in order to start their own learning cycle. The more situations the better. Ultimately my daughter will hopefully learn to enjoy striving for her goals and react quickly to mistakes without being ashamed of taking the chance.

I’ll never forget Easter before my 8th birthday. I was so excited to dye eggs and get ready for the Easter bunny. Once all of the eggs were colored, I picked them up and ran them into the kitchen to put them back in the fridge. In all of my excitement – I slipped on the floor and fell. All of the eggs cracked and were ruined. I melted down in a spectacular fashion. Would the Easter Bunny punish me? Would Easter happen at all? As I was sobbing on the ground amidst a field of tear-stained egg shells, my mom came over and said something to the effect of, “Oh I’m sorry this happened. I think it happened because you were going too fast. What do you think.” After that we talked about it and she helped me come to the conclusion that Easter wasn’t ruined – we just needed to get more eggs! I was relieved and you can bet every time I came around the corner into the kitchen I slowed my roll so I wouldn’t repeat my mistake. I am grateful to my mom for not making me feel ashamed and helping me see the situation as fixable rather than scolding me for ruining Easter.

How do we help our kids feel comfortable learning from mistakes? I really enjoyed this article from Bright Horizons which gives examples of how to react in certain situations. I would love to have a larger conversation about this. I think letting them try new things, not making them feel ashamed when they make mistakes and talking to them about the cause and effect of their actions are important ways to start.

Please chime in on this if you have any thoughts on the importance of making mistakes and how we can help our kiddos to not be afraid to do so.




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