How you respond to the mistakes your child makes is just as important as correcting it. Learn how to respond when kids make mistakes.
I kept telling my boys to knock it off. We were eating dinner and the three of them were acting goofy with one another. Silliness is fine, but I knew something would happen if they didn’t take it down a notch.
On this particular night, they were moving their arms left and right in a marching swing. And as I had predicted, one of them knocked over a cup of water.
To make matters worse, all three just sat looking at the water as it continued to drip onto the floor. As much of an accident as it was, the silliness and the spill were enough to annoy me.
How to respond when kids make mistakes
Mistakes are inevitable for both young children and adults alike. Still, when they happen, however accidental or purposeful, the way we respond makes a difference.
Mistakes go far beyond spilled cups of water (or even cranberry juice on your carpet). Maybe your child not only told a lie, but tried to cover it up. She hit her brother over the head in a fit of rage, or stepped on and broke the sprinkler in the backyard.
No matter the mistake, the way we respond is just as important as correcting it in the first place. What do we need to do when our kids make mistakes?
1. Consider whether the mistake was an accident
How often do you get frustrated when your child stains her nice shirt with jelly or drops her plate of dinner all over the kitchen floor? If you’re like me, you’ve lost your temper at some point.
But ask yourself whether the mistake was an accident—usually the answer is yes. Rarely do kids make mistakes on purpose. She may have spilled all the cereal out of the box and onto the counter, but she was likely just trying to be more independent and serve herself breakfast.
Reminding yourself that the mistake was an accident helps put the situation in perspective. We all make our own mistakes. How often have we gotten frustrated at our kids for spilling a cup of water, only to do the same thing ourselves?
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2. Thank your child
When your child admits to making a mistake, thank him for telling you. Yup, before you even discipline, thank him for letting you know what happened.
Maybe he was rough housing in the living room and ended up pushing his brother too hard, or didn’t clean his toys like he said he did. Before telling him to be more careful or to not do that, thank him for telling you the truth.
He’ll feel like she 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 makes a mistake. Otherwise, he might develop a fear of failure, or that his bad choices define who he is.
In fact, thank him when he…
- tells you about the mistake
- admits his part in the mistake
- helps clean up or resolve the mistake
- apologizes for the mistake
He needs to know that being honest with his parents is more important than hiding things and getting into more trouble.
3. Embrace mistakes as learning moments
Common childhood mistakes make for awesome teachers. When your child makes mistakes, don’t make her feel ashamed for doing so. Making poor decisions can be healthy and helpful—they help her learn what to do and not do in the future. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life that we can make the most of.
Making mistakes helps her develop the coping mechanisms for managing frustration, anxiety, and guilt. She’ll build resilience and develop a growth mindset and the emotional skills to decide how to make the situation better.
4. Prevent common mistakes
Though mistakes are inevitable, you can also prevent many of them from happening in the first place. Child-proof your home, or set valuables out of reach. Pull the kids apart when they’re starting to play too rough, and guide them toward more appropriate activities.
In my case, I could’ve moved the cups of water away from the dining table when my kids were goofing around, or communicated clearly when I told them to stop. Kids can make mistakes because we didn’t take the precautions to avoid them.
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Mistakes are inevitable, there’s no doubt about that. And how you respond is just as important as addressing your child’s mistake in the first place.
To start, see if the mistake was an accident or not. Often the impulse isn’t to be mischievous but a simple mishap. Thank her for admitting her mistakes, especially when she could’ve withheld it from you out of fear of getting into trouble.
Praise her for helping to resolve the mistake and apologizing for the role she played in it. And finally, prevent common mistakes. Sometimes we play a role in the mistakes they make by not taking preventative measures.
Mistakes can be positive when we use them as learning moments. Build open communication based on honesty and unconditional love—even over a spilled cup of water all over the dining table.
Get more tips:
- 5 Homework Mistakes to Avoid Making With Your Child
- Unfair Reasons We Get Mad at Our Kids
- How to Teach Kids the Value of a Job Well Done
- Here’s How to Address Your Child’s Failures
- 5 Characteristics of a Resilient Child
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.
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab The Power of Empathy below—at no cost to you: