Learning From Mistakes // How to teach your child to learn from their choices.

“Mom, I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry,” cries my daughter.  In between loud sobs, she rocks her body back and forth, trying to soothe herself.  “What am I going to do?” she asks aloud, but no one answers.   She is alone in her room, trying to get up the nerve to call me and tell me that she messed up again.

Kids make mistakes.  The last thing you want is your child to be afraid to come to you when they need you the most.   Yet, many parents scold their children when they find out that their child screwed up, and over time, this scolding instills fear.  As children get older, their mistakes can have more significant consequences:  Car accidents, drug use, pregnancy… the list goes on.  No matter what the mistake might be (big or small), we want our children to come to us for help, so they don’t have to face adversity alone. Learning from mistakes

So how do we establish a relationship with our children, strong enough, so that they won’t shy away from calling our phones when they need our help?  It comes down to trust.  Your child has to trust you.

If your response to mistakes is anger, yelling, and punishment- then it is natural for your child to fear your wrath.  Now, I am not saying there shouldn’t be consequences.   I am also not saying that you shouldn’t be angry or disappointed.   The consequences of behaviors are essential.   Anger is a natural response also.  But we must be careful how we respond to our children’s mistakes because how we respond establishes how our children will handle mistakes for their whole life.   Children afraid to make mistakes, don’t take risks, and spend their life hiding. They lose out on valuable experiences.   Children who don’t learn from their mistakes will repeat those mistakes over and over again.  So, it is my belief we need to help our children navigate through mistakes so they can learn from them and better themselves.

Here are my tips for how to talk to your child when they make a mistake.  These techniques should be used when your child is young and reinforced over and over again as they grow into adulthood.

  1. Don’t freak out. This is tough, but if you freak out when your child confides in you- then you will lose their trust.   Practice controlling your emotions and stay calm.
  2. Don’t say, “I told you.” Even if you warned them of the consequences for their choices, and they still didn’t listen-  you can’t say, “I told you so.”  Being right is not the goal.  Instead, the goal should be to support them in learning from their wrong choice.  This is not a competition to prove that you are right and they are wrong. Showing they are wrong doesn’t teach better behavior.
  3. Don’t ask questions like, “How could you have done that? You know better! OR Why did you do that?” These questions don’t teach your child anything, either.  If fact, you are likely to get the response, “I don’t know,” or excuses for their behavior.
  4. Listen to understand and find meaning for their actions. Don’t listen for their wrongdoing.  Instead, look for understanding!
  5. Establish that you are a safe place of support.   The goal is to create trust and security with your child.
  6. Lastly, help them find solutions and learn the lesson the mistake can teach them.

How do parents listen to understand, establish safety, and help their children learn from their mistakes?  You need to ask the right questions!   This is the secret sauce formula; you must ask the right questions!  Questions that search for meaning, understanding, and enables you to explore solutions together. Learning from mistakes

“What kind of questions do that, Kristina?” you might be asking.  Don’t worry!  I won’t leave you hanging!  Below are examples of questions to ask your child.  You can change them to be more age-appropriate to fit your household.  I highly suggest printing them out and keeping them handy, so you can use them the next time your child makes a mistake.

How did it come to this? What events led up to __(this mistake)__ that influenced your decision making?

Did you expect this to happen?  What did you think the outcome would be?

Would you change anything that you did?  Would you change anything that happened?

Did anyone influence you, or did you come to these choices on your own?

How has this changed you? What have you learned from this experience?

What can we do next time to either prevent this from happening again or to handle the situation better?

The right questions allow your child to process their mistakes and learn from them.  Couple this, with a parent who isn’t yelling at them, but instead LISTENING to their side of the story, and now you have created an environment for your child to rise above their errors and be a better person!  Children can’t do this alone.  They need YOU.  They need your support.  They need your guidance to grow.

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