Mistakes in the Making…

I was recently advised to start making more mistakes, on purpose. Why would a therapist encourage me to set up mini failures, not only for myself, but for my kids as well? I’ll explain.

About three years ago, my husband and I noticed our 4-year-old son having difficulty with his speech. It’s common for a young child to have moments of dysfluency or stutter his/her words, but with a family history of stuttering, we had concerns. We sought out speech therapy, and since then, we’ve embraced a variety of strategies to help him navigate his stutter.

Stuttering 101 – Learning to Let Go of “Perfect” Speech

Now that he’s 7 and entering first grade, he’s become more self-aware AND more aware of what others think of him. For the most part, while his speech can be “bumpy,” he still flows through normal conversation fairly easily. His conversation with a friend might start with a couple repetitious words, but it usually doesn’t seem to phase him. Not all conversations are that easy, though. There are periods of time when his struggle to simply “talk” is obvious and his frustration intensifies. A simple question to his camp counselor about how much a push pop costs could take an entire minute, but it feels like eternity. During these times, I’ve noticed his frustration grow. He’ll tightly squeeze his little fists and bang them on his leg. It’s as if he’s trying to pound the words out.

Taking A Look In the Mirror

In my conversation with family therapist, Susan Stiffelman, we not only discussed my son’s speech, but more importantly, we processed his reactions and perfectionist tendencies. Other teachers or therapists have also noticed his desire to get it exactly right, every time. As Susan and I talked, it became obvious that his perfectionist tendencies were triggering for me, because that is a quality that came from his mama.

Embracing Mistakes and Failures in Our Kitchen

When I thought about how I could intentionally make mistakes with my son, my kitchen was the first place that came to mind. August is Kids Eat Right Month, and this year’s theme encourages parents to be healthy role models. As a dietitian, I know I demonstrate healthy eating, but could I do a better job of modeling resilience to making mistakes? Maybe I could set the stage for getting my son to play with food in the kitchen AND come up with a fun way to intentionally make mistakes in the kitchen?

How Disgusting Can You Make It?

The challenge I conjured up was right up any boy’s alley: Let’s make a disgusting recipe and double dare our family members to try it. I allowed him to use any five ingredients and any preparation method. Mom and Dad were the taste testers to rate how disgusting his recipe was.  With my help, he blended and then sautéed the following 5 ingredients: soy sausage, eggs, dried red chili pepper, spicy mayonnaise and milk. The final product tasted like a very spicy egg soufflé. Actually…it wasn’t all that bad…but don’t tell him that. The result of our experiment was carefree cooking that welcomed a safe space for mistake making. He had so much fun watching our expressions as we tasted his personal masterpiece of mistakes.

Mom Reacting to Jack’s Disgusting Recipe

7 year old boy cooking spicy eggs showing how he can embrace making mistakes

Mistakes Can Be Gifts

In the end, what we’re learning as a family is that mistakes can actually be gifts. While my son’s stutter is not a mistake, we’re learning to let go of perfect speech expectations. And…cooking with kids in kitchen won’t just be about cooking up healthy food, but it’s a safe place where we can cook up healthy conversation, connection and self care.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.