Coaching Clarity To Students With Back-To-School Blinders



Any advice to help kids not repeat last year’s school mistakes?

As a new school year beckons children aren’t the only ones with apprehension about the events to come.  Parents, and many teachers, wonder what the coming school year will bring, and whether previous problems will be repeated. Most kids would rather not remember the troubles of last year, preferring to hope for the best and put the past behind them. Unfortunately, the truism of those who don’t learn from the past mistakes are destined to repeat them, tends to find validation in the halls of education.

If you are searching for ways to clarify for your child or student how yesterday’s problems can be prevented consider the following coaching tips:

Explain how it’s understandable that they would rather forget past troubles but this only invites their return. Introduce the concept of “mistake blinders” to signify the natural tendency to ignore factors that led to distressful outcomes since it doesn’t feel good to remember bad times. By reviewing the “mistake steps” that led to problems they remove blinders and give themselves a much better chance at school success. See if they can identify some of these steps on their own. Some obvious ones are not writing assignments down and not studying enough, but also consider the less obvious reasons. These include over-socializing and silly attention-seeking behaviors.

Encourage the child to make a written list of their mistake steps and rank order from highest to lowest the mistakes’ power to push them “back to past problems.”  The notion is for them to clarify how these errors crept into their life, be on the look-out for their return, and resist the urge to fall into the same trap.  If their tendency is to become too involved in trying to solve friends’ problems, talk about how to set limits upon relationships and not enter the rescuer role. If clowning strained relationships with teachers ask them to find other more appropriate ways to be acknowledged by peers.

Emphasize how another form of blinders is when kids create arbitrary rules about schoolwork and school behaviors.  For example, some students refuse to request extra help from teachers and/or parents, while others insist upon finishing all homework before arriving home even if it means hurriedly scribbling answers during bus rides or doing work between bites at lunch. These and other problematic habits are fertile ground for mistakes to pop out without notice since they inhibit the capacity to receive helpful feedback and  to clearly see if academic performance is suffering.

Another way to open their eyes to learning from mistakes is for them to hear true stories from adults other than parents. Personal accounts from close family friends or extended relatives that highlight the wisdom of knowing one’s “mistake signature” can be invaluable. This term refers to the common circumstances that lead to the significant errors of each individual.  Stress how awareness of this pattern can curtail how big mistakes become a repetitive part of life.

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450 or