How you respond to the mistakes kids make is just as important as correcting it in the first place. Learn how to respond when kids make mistakes.
I kept telling my boys to knock it off. We were eating dinner and, as usual, the three of them acted goofy with one another. On this particular night, they were moving their arms left and right in a marching swing. And as I predicted, one of them knocked over a cup of water.
How to respond when kids make mistakes
Maybe your child has also spilled a cup of water, or told a lie and tried to cover it up, or even hit his brother over the head. The way we react is just as important as correcting our children’s mistakes.
1. Consider whether the mistake was an accident
Was your child’s mistake an accident? How often do you get frustrated when your kids mess up their nice shirts with jelly? Or drop their plate of dinner all over the kitchen floor? If you’re like me, you’ve lost your temper at some point.
Before you discipline your kids, ask yourself whether the mistake was an accident. Usually the answer is yes. Rarely do kids make mistakes or mishaps on purpose to be naughty. Even a young child emptying a cereal box may not have known she wasn’t allowed to. And as frustrating as it is to clean spilled water, my son didn’t do it on purpose.
Reminding yourself that the mistake was an accident helps put it in perspective. Everyone makes mistakes, including us. How often have we gotten frustrated at our kids for spilling a cup of water, only to do the same thing yourself?
2. Thank your child
When your child admits making a mistake, thank him for telling you. Yup, before you scold or discipline, thank your child for letting you know what happened. Maybe he was rough housing with his brother and ended up pushing him too hard. Before telling him to be more careful, thank him for telling you the truth.
My three-year-old ran to me in tears, and I asked my six-year-old, “What happened?” He bowed his head low and whispered, “I hit him.” Before telling him not to do that, I reassured him, “Thanks for telling me the truth.”
He’ll feel like he can tell you anything, even when he’s in trouble or needs help. He should be able to tell you both good and bad parts of his day, including when he’s guilty of making a mistake. He needs to know it’s more important to be honest with his parents than hide things and get into more trouble.
Thank your kids when they…
- tell you about the mistake
- admit their part in it
- help clean up or resolve the mistake
3. Embrace mistakes as learning moments
Common childhood mistakes are awesome teachers. When your kids make mistakes, don’t make them feel ashamed for doing so. Common mistakes are healthy and helpful—they help kids learn what to do and not do in the future. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life that we might as well make the most of.
Rather than reprimand your kids, focus on helping them sort through their emotions. Allow them to make mistakes. They’ll know you have faith in their ability to do so and aren’t always trying to protect them.
Making mistakes helps kids develop the coping mechanisms for controlling frustration and guilt. They develop the thinking skills to decide how to make the situation better. And when we don’t let them make mistakes or reprimand them for doing so, they miss out on this opportunity.
4. Prevent common mistakes
Though mistakes are inevitable, help prevent the mistakes your child makes. Child-proof your home, or set valuables out of reach. Pull the kids apart when they’re starting to play too rough. Guide your child towards more appropriate activities.
I could’ve moved the cups of water away from the dining table when my kids were goofing around. Or I could’ve been more stern when I said for them to stop. Kids can make mistakes because we didn’t take the precautions to avoid them in the first place.
Mistakes are inevitable. How we react is just as important as addressing the mistake in the first place.
- See if the mistake was an accident or not. Often the impulse wasn’t to be mischievous but a simple accident. You make mistakes as well, and that no one is perfect.
- Thank your kids for telling you their mistakes. Praise them for helping to resolve the mistake and even apologizing for the role they played in it.
- Mistakes can be positive when we use them as learning moments.
- And finally, prevent common mistakes. Sometimes we play a role in the mistakes they make.
Build open communication based on honesty, learning from the moment and unconditional love. Even over a spilled cup of water on the dining table.
Get more tips about mistakes and how kids learn:
- Homework Tips for Parents: Crucial Mistakes You Should Definitely Avoid
- Unfair Reasons We Get Mad at Our Kids
- Teach Your Child the Value of a Job Well Done
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
- Teaching Resilience and Perseverance: How to Raise Kids with Grit
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
And check out the fantastic book, What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada. Encourage your child to face her problems and discover the opportunities they can hold.
Tell me in the comments: What are your tips on how to respond when kids make mistakes?