Benefits of mistakes

Neurologist Judy Willis, MD, MEd, shares advice for parents on how children's brain development benefits when kids are allowed to make mistakes
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Benefits of mistakes

Do you sometimes wonder if it's harming your child to be told that they're wrong? Or when you're helping with homework to point out their mistakes? I mean, what effect do mistakes have on children? Turns out that mistakes are incredibly powerful. The brain will rewire if it makes a mistake. If there's something that makes the brain choose a response, let's call it a prediction because it's the same in humans as animals. The brain has a choice to make, an answer to make. It uses whatever it knows from prior experience to make that choice or answer. If the answer, if there's feedback, a mistake, and they know that it was wrong and information was given as to what the right answer was, an amazing thing happens. There's a prediction reward center. As soon as a prediction or choice is made, it's there waiting to find out if it was right or wrong. And if it was right, dopamine comes out, which means pleasure. If it was wrong, a little dopamine's withheld. Now the brain always seeking pleasure will say, "Wait a minute, I don't like this. My pleasure went down," and it will rewire. The memory, the information that the person had in their brain that was wrong will be rewired so that they'll make the correct response the next time. So mistakes are amazing; they'll change the brain for the better.

Neurologist Judy Willis, MD, MEd, shares advice for parents on how children's brain development benefits when kids are allowed to make mistakes


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Judy Willis, MD, MEd


After graduating Phi Beta Kappa as the first woman graduate from Williams College, Judy Willis attended UCLA School of Medicine where she was awarded her medical degree. She remained at UCLA and completed a medical residency and neurology residency, including chief residency. She practiced neurology for 15 years before returning to university to obtain her teaching credential and master's of education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She then taught in elementary and middle school for 10 years.

Dr. Judy Willis is an authority on brain research and its applications regarding learning. With the unique background as a parent, neurologist, classroom teacher, and neuro-educator she writes extensively for parenting magazines and professional educational journals. Dr. Willis has written six books for parents and educators about applying brain research to parenting and teaching.

Dr. Willis is on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Education, University of California and gives presentations to parents and educators nationally and internationally about how to help children learn joyfully and successfully. She is on the Board of Directors of the Hawn Foundation, dedicated to helping children improve academic performance and acquire vital social and emotional skills. In 2011, she was honored by Edutopia, as a “Big Thinker on Education”.

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