The Real Magic Words: How to Help Our Kids View Mistakes as Opportunities for Growth


Author: Iva H. Gojanović, LICSW



Across the Globe, kids are taught the three magic words- please, thank you and you’re welcome. While these words have their power and hold their place in the World of etiquette, I offer you three little words in the English language that may hold even greater power: “I am sorry”, or two if you’re into contractions: “I’m sorry”.

We all make mistakes. We have all been late, said something or did something we later regretted or acted in way that was not appropriate or expected for the situation. This is part of being human and we learn from our mistakes. In fact, a research study completed by psychologist Jason Moser and his colleagues found  that the brain grows as a result of mistakes due to the neurons that fire during the process of making a mistake as it is a stressful/ challenging event for the brain (even when we don’t recognize that we are making a mistake!) If you are interested in reading more about the study and it’s implications in schools, here is the link:

While we all make mistakes, it is likely that not all of us apologize or have been apologized to for other people’s mistakes. Acknowledging a mistake has a lot to do with mindset and the beliefs that people have around mistakes- which are learned in childhood.

One of the greatest limiting beliefs that holds people back is that mistakes are bad or that mistakes are a sign of failure. If one holds the belief that mistakes are bad it can greatly and negatively impact their quality of life and their perceptions about themselves. If someone fears making mistakes, they will not take on challenges- which again, is another opportunity for growth.

Please take a moment and check in with yourself:

  • What are your beliefs around mistakes?
  • How were mistakes handled in your household when you were a child?
  • How do you handle mistakes now?
  • When was the last time you made a mistake? How did it make you feel? What did you do?
  • When was the last time someone apologized to you? How did it make you feel?

Since limiting beliefs are formed in childhood, perhaps the biggest gift we can give our kids and younger generations are beliefs that are empowering. While we may not be able to “give” or hand off beliefs, we certainly can influence them. One way we can influence the belief that mistakes are okay is to acknowledge them and apologize.

Back to the three magic words, “I am sorry.” The reason why they are so powerful is it shows humility, it demonstrates you have regard for the other person and it signifies that you too, another human being, is also capable of making an error. The way we model things for our kids is a much more powerful lesson than just our words. When we can model being accepting of our own mistakes, that shows “It’s okay to make mistakes”.

When a kid hears “I am sorry” from an adult, incredible things happen. They feel seen and heard, acknowledged and respected and somewhere, in their brain the idea that is okay to make mistakes is formed. A belief that mistakes are okay has been fortified with some proof- if an adult I trust can make a mistake, so can I.