When using a growth mindset mistakes can help you grow! Rather than thinking our intelligence is fixed and unchanging, the growth mindset encourages people to see their abilities as things that can improve. Here, we’re covering why it is important to teach students the growth mindset. You’ll also find strategies to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset when mistakes happen.

Growth mindset mistakes

Growth Mindset Mistakes

In life we strive to be perfect. Some of the best inventions have come from mistakes.  For children (and adults), it can be a real challenge when simple mistakes happen. Errors happen all day long: in math problems, in conversation, in the classroom, or in a myriad ways!

The problem is when these mistakes become a setback in emotional or behavioral self-regulation

Mistakes are part of the learning process!

Developing a growth mindset is about what you are going to do, not what you can’t do. Try again, or make the most of what you have already.  

Learning from mistakes examples:

Some inventors decided to make the most of what they had created by accident.  They learned something valuable from their mistakes. Check it out!

  • Penicillin – Alexander Fleming was a medic through WWII.  He was used to using antiseptics to treat infections, but was trying to find a safer alternative. He was studying staphylococci in several petri dishes. He stacked them on top of each other and went on vacation. When he returned, he discovered there was a fungus growing on several of the dishes that had destroyed the staphylococci infection. His poor housekeeping skills and growth mindset mistakes lead to the discovery of penicillin!
  • Microwave – Percy Spencer was working on magnetron technology. When he stood too close to the magnetron he noticed his candy bar had melted in his pocket. He tried popcorn, eggs, and other foods next to the magnet and voila! The microwave was invented.
  • Potato Chips – This was the result of trying to please a picky customer.  Cornelius Vanderbilt repeatedly sent back his potatoes to the chef because they were too soggy. After several returned attempts, the chef decided to slice the potatoes really thin and fry them as a joke. The customer loved these fried potatoes, and the potato chip was born.
  • Velcro – George de Mistral was walking his dogs and noticed several burrs sticking to their fur. He marveled at the way these burrs clung to the dogs. After a few trials and mistakes (including chopping bits and pieces off of the material), he created what is now known as velcro.
  • Post it Notes – Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to invent an extremely strong adhesive. What he ended up with was an adhesive that stuck but could easily be unstuck and repositioned. He deemed this mistake a failure, until someone suggested reusable book marks and notepads.  The classic yellow color was born from the only available colored paper at the time!
  • Coca Cola – This popular drink was born from nerve tonic. This was supposed to cure all ailments. Unfortunately it had alcohol in it, and in the age of prohibition it had to be removed. A little sugar was added and the carbonated beverage was advertised as making people healthier. We now know that this beverage definitely does not make one healthier, it does the opposite. However, in moderation, it is a sweet treat with a boost of caffeine.
  • Slinky – Richard James was attempting to invent a spring that would stabilize equipment on Navy ships. He accidentally knocked it off his table and was delighted to see how it slinked down to the floor.  While the Navy rejected his invention, millions of children throughout the world have owned at least one Slinky.
  • Silly Putty – During WWII James Wright was trying to invent a cheap alternative to synthetic rubber.  He accidentally spilled boric acid into silicone oil and created a stretchy bouncy product.  This toy has morphed into Theraputty, a helpful tool for strengthening and stretching muscles.
  • Playdough – This craft staple and children’s favorite building material was designed as a wallpaper cleaner. With the decline in popularity of wallpaper in recent years, the company is thankful they rebranded this as the playdough we know today! And, we all know the benefits of play dough, so this is a wonderful mistake that was made!

These are just a few of the inventions made while trying to invent something else.  The products were born from people learning from mistakes. There are dozens more including; Crazy glue, popsicles, artificial sweetener, Viagra, Smart Dust, ice cream cones, the pacemaker, and more.  

Why are these mistakes important? We can help kids see that there is importance of mistakes happening. Otherwise these products would never have been invented!

What else did these inventors learn from their growth mindset mistakes?

A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.). Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, stronger, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

This way of thinking became popular through the work of Carol Dweck in her book (Amazon affiliate link) Mindset.  She teaches about the “power of yet.” This mindset shifts the focus away from all the things one can not do, to what one can not do YET.

The power of yet teaches people:

  • they can learn
  • learning takes time and effort
  • results come from hard work
  • giving up isn’t an option 

 This is huge when we think about the kids we serve and the ability to develop and strengthen self-esteem.

These inventors believed they could learn new skills with enough effort and practice. Giving up was not an option for them. If they had given up on their “mistakes”, and not persevered with their ideas, they would not have invented some amazing products!   

I don’t believe these inventors “got lucky” or “were in the right place at the right time”. Perhaps they did have a little fortune on their side in their innovation, but most of them had the growth mindset, and will to succeed.  

If they had not invented what they did, they probably would have gone on to create something else, or reach other an achievement. 

Mindset is the difference between those who excel and those who give up. The issue is that there can be discomfort in making errors…and then persevering.

Learning from mistakes and moving forward drives people to succeed. It offers a chance to reframe mistakes into another chance, a new opportunity, or another try. Some people innately have this drive, while others need to develop it. 

Mindset Tools for Mistakes

Below are some mindset tools to help us make mistakes with a growth mindset. These are new strategies, but also tools to support mindset.

As therapy professionals, educators, or parents, we can drive the enthusiasm in persevering or trying again. The obstacles kids struggle with are part of the course, and we can support that development with words of encouragement. The OT Toolbox is featuring several posts involving mindset to help create a treatment plan for yourself, or the learners you work with.

Use these tools in a growth mindset lesson to support self-awareness skills.

Develop Brain Skills- Brain activity happens with learning, and making mistakes is part of that learning process. Using persistence to complete a task is not only an executive functioning skill, it’s also an opportunity to develop grit, or resilience. This is an important life skill!

  • Amazon (affiliate link) has a great Growth Workbook for Kids. It is a fun and engaging activity book, for ages 8 to 12, that can help you train your brain and develop creative problem-solving skills through practice and perseverance. You’ll learn how to foster a “can-do” attitude and celebrate your mistakes as a path to ultimate success.
  • Mindsetkit has a great presentation on the critical role of mistakes.  

Give yourself permission to make mistakes- Switch thinking from an error that means starting over is a bad thing. Mistakes can be permission to achieve a new skill. 

Sometimes, as humans, we view mistakes as something bad. But when we stretch mistakes into something good, it’s switching the perspective in our brains. We can try a different strategy. We can use new skills that we learned as a result of that mistake. 

Working with kids is a great opportunity to try again, but an important one that can have a huge impact!

Learn from mistakes- There is always an AHA-moment mistakes allow. At some point, maybe long after the mistake has happened, that we have a moment of “Aha!” where we learn something about ourselves. We can ask ourselves a few questions as part of this mistake learning:

  • What have you learned from making mistakes?  
  • What did the mistake teach me?
  • What did I do that contributed to this mistake?
  • What can I do differently next time?
  • What tools can I use next time?
  • Was this a “big mistake” or a “small mistake”?
  • What did I learn from this mistake?

Talk about different kinds of mistakes- Not all mistakes are life threatening, or high-stakes mistakes! We can work with kids to identify different types of mistakes. Ask kids to identify different scenarios on a scale of intensity.

  • small mistakes
  • big mistakes
  • life-threatening situations 
  • learning curve errors
  • sloppy mistakes

Find courage to try again- I have learned that there is not much that can not be undone or fixed. This gives me the courage to try. Talking about this concept of trying again can be helpful for kids. We can even bring up times in our life that we as therapists have had to try again.

  • Don’t like that paint color in your bedroom you just painted?  Paint over it.
  • Not sure about the tattoo you just had done? Get it removed or “painted over”
  • Not thrilled with the way your hair color/cut came out? It will grow back, or try again with another color.
  • Cookies came out overdone? Chop them up and sprinkle over ice cream, or feed them to the goats.

Mistakes can be spun as a trial run. Every mistake is good practice for the next time!

Use self-talk- Kids can use self-talk as a strategy to hush that inner critic that tends to “beat up” our emotional state. Instead of repeatedly thinking “I’m so dumb”, “How could I make this mistake”, or “I’ll never be good enough”, we can teach kids the emotional regulation strategy of self-talk to support their mindset. 

Positive self-talk is a huge asset to teach to switch the perspective of mistakes as a bad thing to just part of the learning and living process. There is power of the word that  we speak to ourselves!

A final note on growth mindset mistakes 

I once took a pottery sculpting class years ago on a whim (actually after a bad breakup).  My coil pot was crooked, bumpy, and leaning to the side.  Instead of becoming discouraged, I took a step back.  It kind of looked like the sorting hat from Harry Potter.  I painted it and proudly display it as a sorting hat replica!  What could have been a mistake and failure, turned into a one of a kind art piece.

Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

growth mindset mistakes