Everyone makes mistakes. It is a universal fact. And some people find it easier than others to admit it.

When our children make mistakes, we react in various ways:

We might criticise them

Shout at them

Give them a smack

Punish them

Remind them

Preach at them

Tell them what they should have done

Argue with them

Threaten them

Call them names such as stupid, thick, dumb, idiot, etc. etc.

But there is a problem with each of these methods. They don’t work.

Sometimes in the short-term, our children do things to avoid our shouting or punishment, but in the long-term, behaviours will be repeated when we are not around.

Our children continue to fight, pick on other kids, answer back, misbehave in school, help themselves to crisps– or whatever it is.

Which is a bit devastating to find out, bearing in mind that we frequently copy behaviour that we have learned from our own parents and teachers as we were growing up.

So why do we keep using these methods to discipline our children?

Mainly because we can’t think of another way of dealing with it.

As parents, we want our children to learn from mistakes. So what do we need to do to achieve this?

It is the way we deal with the mistake that has the biggest impact.

As soon as we start shouting or criticising our children, the barriers go up. They start to tune us out and in their minds they start justifying their behaviour.

Think of how you would feel if your boss started telling you off for something. Called you stupid and started shouting at you. How would you feel?

Apart from maybe feeling a huge amount of embarrassment and anger, you might think ‘He doesn’t understand’ ‘I had a good reason’. Or you might think ‘It’s true, I am stupid. I won’t ever be able to do it.’ Or ‘La la la la la…. I’m not listening!’ Or ‘Go and crawl back under your rock! You lizard’. The more militant among us will start shouting back. Or  take it out someone else.

Well it’s the same with children.

When we attack our children for making mistakes we stop them being able to listen or learn.

So what can we do that will help our children learn from their mistakes?

We need to

  • Help our children understand that everyone makes mistakes and we don’t expect them to be perfect
  • React to a mistake with a determination to help our child learn from it
  • Calmly assist them in understanding if there is something that needs to be fixed or there are natural consequences. And get our child to help sort it out (such as clearing up a mess)
  • Wait for our child to calm down before discussing the mistake. Listen to the issues, but if possible, give them space to get over the frustration and upset that the mistake may have caused, as it’s very difficult to think straight when emotions are running high
  • Encourage our child to admit to a mistake, and to take responsibility for it rather than blaming others.
  • Praise our children when they do admit to a mistake. And resist the temptation to jump in with a criticism, comment, label, punishment or judgement.
  • Make sure that we stick to the one mistake, rather than bringing up any similar mistakes made in the past.
  • Encourage our child to say sorry and discuss ways of doing this in person if possible or in a letter.
  • A good apology includes: a description of what happened,  recognition of the hurt or damage done, accepting responsibility for the situation, admitting their role in the incident,  expressing regret for what happened, asking forgiveness, reassurance that it won’t happen agai n and how they would like to make up for the hurt or damage.
  • Overcome the temptation to rescue our child from the consequences of a mistake. And help them to realise the consequences of their actions. (Such as children not wanting to play with them, people being cross, punishments at school etc.).
  • Help our children to problem solve to look at ways to make amends or do something nice if they have hurt or offended someone (maybe drawing them a nice picture, helping out, decorating a cake for them or giving them a foot massage!)
  • Help them to explore what they have learned from the mistake
  • Help them realise the benefits to our learning when we get something wrong
  • Forgive and forget. Once our child has apologised, made amends and talked about any lessons they have learned it is important forgive them and to make sure they forgive themselves. It is also important not to keep bringing it up and to move on.
  • Let our child know that we love them no matter what mistakes they make, and are proud of them for their determination and courage in dealing with their own mistakes.

It is also important that we go through the same process when we make mistakes. Children will learn a lot by copying the behaviour modelled by their parents. So when we have lost our temper or done something we are not proud of, saying sorry is good. And children love to hear when we have made mistakes, what the consequences were and what we learned. It helps them to realise that we are all human!

If you have a story of how you helped your child learn from a mistake I would love to hear it. Please just pop it in the box below.

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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