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Let your kids make mistakes

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 3 March 2022

So often as parents, we try to prevent our kids from making mistakes. We issue warnings, reach out to help, or just do a job ourselves because we don't want the hassle of cleaning up after a mistake. 

Mistakes can assume such forms as a spill, fall, or ill-considered decision: all valuable and necessary in a child's developing self-esteem! How we handle mistakes throughout a child's growing career can teach him that challenges are either threats to be avoided or opportunities to learn and develop strong mastery skills.

A "rescuing" parent does just that: rescues a child from a problem she has encountered, or anticipates a problem and prevents it from happening. For the sake of our children's developing self-esteem, we do not want to do this. It may make our job easier for the moment if we complete a task ourselves rather than give our child the job along with its accompanying opportunity to mess up and/or we might think our children will love us more if we clean up their messes for them rather than turn the responsibility for repair over to them, but as Barbara Coloroso writes in her book Kids Are Worth It: "Parenting is neither an efficient profession nor a popularity contest."

Aside from rescuing our kids from their problems, washing our hands of them (that is, ridding ourselves of any involvement, which may or may not be accompanied by a healthy dose of berating) is equally unhealthy. It sends the message that kids are incompetent and incapable and that we are not there to help them when they make a mistake. Sometimes our children will get into problems that are over their heads and, with our help, their mistakes will turn into incredible learning opportunities!

We need to be supportive and encouraging or our kids' mistakes. We need to see them for what they are: one more chance to boost self-esteem by allowing for critical thinking and problem-solving. What we need is not a balance between rescuing and washing our hands, but a third choice altogether: focusing on solutions. 

When a mistake has been made, is it more important to look for blame or to figure out how to fix it? Instead of spouting off about carelessness, immaturity, or inconvenience (where are always the first exasperated thoughts that come come to mind), try asking "What are we going to do about it?" "What can I do to help?" "What are you going to do?" or "What are some options we could try?"

Though the steps involved in problem-solving are not always fun for kids, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction in themselves that follows offers a big reward. Children begin to see problems as challenges to be mastered, not threats to be avoided. Instead of shrinking away from difficulty, they have confidence that they can successfully tackle any obstacle in their way.

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Kelly Bartlett is a certified positive discipline educator.

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let your kids make mistakes