Would You Punish a Baby for Falling Over? A New Approach to Making Mistakes

Two weeks after starting my own business, I discovered I’d soon be a father. Oh yes, as if life wasn't stressful enough, a little boy would soon rely on me to guide him through this world. As fellow parents know, this changes everything. Life no longer looks, smells, or tastes the same, and my little boy, Kid Turndog (or as his mother likes to call him, George), introduced me to a beautiful new light.

Here's Kid Turndog around the time he took his memorable first steps.


January 2014, shortly after my parents returned from New Zealand, I sensed the big moment was near, but nothing prepared me for the pride I'd feel. Before dinner, he attempted and stumbled, but thirty minutes later he took his first wobbly step.

More followed, until he staggered across the living room and into my arms. I shed a tear or two because I'd seen him fall and bump his head and cry so many times. I hate to see him fail, but it's part of the journey he's on. Every bump's a badge of honour, and I couldn't be more proud of each tiny accomplishment he makes.

He continues to fall and bump his head, and boy does he make silly and ill-advised decisions. As a parent, I have one of two options:

  1. Wrap him in bubble-wrap, ensuring he's safe at all times.
  2. Let him do silly and ill-advised stuff, in the hope he learns and doesn't do it again.

I couldn't imagine the former, so I live by the latter, and each weekend he blows my mind with his wayward ways. Here's a few things he's done in the past:

  • Eat a crayon
  • Touched the living room fireplace
  • Attempted to touch the freshly boiled kettle
  • Eaten a muddy stone (well, he tried)
  • Drank pond water
  • Eat duck food

You may say to yourself, "Turndog, what the hell are you doing? How about you watch your son from time-to-time!”

I do, but he's quicker than me. He's like some stealthy ninja who manages to sneak through my defences, but even though I protect him as much as I can, I know the best form of protection is to let him go ahead and learn for himself.

I can tell him not to touch the fireplace, but it often goes in one ear and out of the other.

Yet here's the thing... the moment he glanced his thumb against it, I knew he'd never do it again (FYI: he hasn’t).

We're human. We make mistakes for a living. 

As a species, we're designed to make mistakes and learn from them. Want proof? Think about how you learn to walk.

Before those memorable first steps, Kid Turndog shuffled around the furniture and wobbled on his knees. A few weeks earlier, he crawled around the living room, but not until he first sat upright.

Before that he laid helpless on his back.

Bit-by-bit, day-by-day, he learned how to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand, wobble, shuffle, until the promise land stood before him and he took those memorable first steps into it. He had to make one mistakes after another though, before he clicked the pieces into place.

We don't punish babies for making mistakes like these because we know each silly faux pas leads to sense and sensibility. As kids get older, we start to shower them with punishments: detention, red-inked homework, poor test scores, no dessert because they tried to set the cat's tail on fire...

From childhood to young adulthood, this only gets worse: we lose jobs for making mistakes, and get fined, and ordered to go to court. Of course, some mistakes require punishment, and we shouldn't glorify failure. None of us set out to fail or make mistakes, but what most of us forget is, it happens regardless.

Just like Kid Turndog had to fall over in order to walk, we, as people aiming to make a success of life, must take a few wrong turns along the way. The thing is is, society and time's ruined us. We're terrified of making mistakes, but our natural instinct is to make them; to learn from them.

You start a business or a new job, and in the beginning you have grand visions. You're excited, but you're also scared about failing. It stops you from taking a chance. It stifles your creativity and your decision-making.

You conform to the tried-and-tested, and attempt to fit into some cookie-cutter mentality. But what the hell does this achieve? At best you become a clone of someone else. At worst, you wander around helpless.

What Interviewing 163 Successful Entrepreneurs Has Taught Me

For my latest book, The Successful Mistake, I've interviewed 163 successful entrepreneurs (Jenny included). Their stories and advice differ each time, but their approach towards mistakes... and failure... and conformity... and fear.... This is what they share in common.

  • They don't see mistakes. They see lessons
  • They understand good ideas sometimes fail
  • But that failure doesn't mean the end
  • They appreciate fear is always there
  • Yet you cannot let it hold you back... EVER!

I'm not a smart person, so I've no idea about the psychology of children and the human race. I am rather observant though, and what I notice from Kid Turndog is that he's ruled by his natural instincts.

  • He's creative
  • He's curious
  • He says yes to opportunity
  • He doesn't let fear hold him back
  • When he makes a mistake, he gets back up and tries again

This is the kind of individual I strive to be.

It's Time to Change Your Mindset

Now might be the time you expect to see a list of tips and tricks and hacks, but on this occasion I won't offer any. Instead, I ask you to make a conscious decision to change your mindset, and embrace mistakes like your inner infant would.

After all, YOU, like Kid Turndog, once stumbled along the furniture and touched a hot fireplace because… well, why the hell not? How else are we supposed to know what it feels like?

This article and the book I write isn’t designed to glorify mistakes or failure. It’s to point out that things don’t go according to plan all the time. Good intentions often manifest into mistakes, and this is fine so long as you accept them and move on.

  • Don’t fear mistakes - Accept them
  • Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty - Take a step back and breathe
  • Don’t panic and make things worse - Go for a walk and make the right decision
  • Don’t move on and pretend it never happened - Ask yourself what you can learn

Above all, consider how you can turn it around and develop it into something bigger, better, faster, and stronger. With this approach, you don’t make big mistakes because you constantly learn from the little ones.

I remain scared of mistakes and failure, but I’m in a far better position these days. After all, 163 successful entrepreneurs cannot be wrong, right?!?


About Matthew

Matthew Turner (aka: TURNDOG) is a writer and storyteller hell-bent on sharing inspiring tales. For his latest book. The Successful Mistake, he interviewed 163 successful entrepreneurs about their biggest mistake and how they transformed it into success. If you're the type of person who likes to grow and better yourself, you may like to Join The Journey and be part of Matthew's book-writing journey (wink-wink - a free copy of the book awaits you).