The Importance Of Avoiding Excessive Corrections

Dr. Sam Goldstein

Excessive correction reduces everyone’s motivation and increases feelings of low self-worth. Be sensitive when providing feedback. Learning occurs in safe environments where children do not need to defend their actions, strategies or opinions. Some correction is necessary for children to learn what does not work or is inefficient. Most times, however, children will arrive at their own understanding. This process can be accelerated by asking your child if he or she can think of another way to complete the task. You can then guide your child specifically by asking him or her to think of a faster, more careful way, or a way that a tricky fox would use, etc. However, when accuracy is important and there is only one correct answer or response, you can look for similarities in mistakes and point these out as one type. Alternatively you can point out a single mistake and ask your child to find others of the same type and fix them all at one time (one error rather than many). Children also learn well from general rules to prevent errors.

Remember that your child will learn best when you point out what is correct and what is better than the last time. This is particularly true of children who have suffered from “success deprivation” at school. A good rule is to provide at least three compliments for every correction. In general, praising effort is better and more realistic than falsely claiming the work as a whole is outstanding. Keep in mind that your child may compare his or her work to others. For this reason you should encourage comparisons of your child’s work with his or her previous work and effort – not with others. These self-comparisons will improve long-term motivation.

Listen carefully to what your child has to say about homework and be sensitive to any feelings of frustration. It is important for you to view homework and education within the total fabric of your child’s life. Education requires children to be generalists who are good at everything. But life requires adults to specialize and demonstrate perseverance. Adults can hire others to help them with their weak areas (e.g., filling out tax returns). They can work on teams with others who may possess different skills. Although there may be some artificiality in the skills necessary for success in school versus success in life, consider what you can do to make at least some parts of school more meaningful in your child’s life.

This column is excerpted and condensed from, Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide for Solving Common Homework Problems by Sydney S. Zentall, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. (1999, Specialty Press, Inc.).