OK In Health - Parenting Tips

Are Mistakes REALLY for Learning? - August 2017

How you handle mistakes can make or break you, your child, and your relationship!

By Maggie Reigh, Kelowna, BC

Parent helping their child

Most people have heard that “mistakes are for learning.”  But is that really true in your life?  How do you respond when you or your child makes a mistake? How you respond to mistakes could determine whether your child will be happy and open to life or resentful, rebellious, defeated and withdrawn. And it could determine whether they run to you for help when they are in trouble or away from you for fear of getting into more trouble!


“When I grew up,” declared a friend of mine, “there was a right way – and only one right way – to do things.  And if you didn’t do it that way, you were wrong.  And if you were wrong, you were bad. So we weren’t ever supposed to make a mistake.  Mistakes were bad, and we would be punished for them.” 


And still today, most parents feel compelled to correct their children. It’s as if their child’s mistakes are a sign of their own failure as a parent. This parental drive to constantly correct children can single-handedly destroy parent-child relationships. 


Ironically, it also produces the exact opposite effect than that which parents are hoping to accomplish!  Think about it: How grateful are your children to receive your correction?  Do they listen to you and automatically do as you say?  If you find yourself constantly correcting them, how do YOU feel about that and about your relationship?  How do you feel about others constantly correcting you – even if it is for your own good!


Most parents rarely question the belief that it is their job to make their children “suffer the consequences” by heaping shame upon them and even more consequences – that is, punishment. No wonder children scurry to cover up their mistakes; to lie about them and to blame them on others.  After all, who wants to be punished further?


Perhaps the wisest insight that I have ever received came from a parent in my parenting class. “I finally understand,” she said, “Why none of those other parenting strategies were working with Jeremy… I thought that correcting was more important than connecting!”  You could have heard a pin drop as we all recognized and resonated with that statement.


How would your relationship change if the most important driving force was to connect with your child?  Do you know who your child really is… what she thinks, how she thinks, what makes her laugh, and what’s important to her? 


Instead of leaping in to judge and punish your child for making mistakes, what if you became curious about what was going on for her that led to the “mistake?”  What if you changed your judgement into curiosity when things went “wrong” and looked for ways to help your child develop the skills, strength, and confidence to deal with the situation at hand? This is how you establish a relationship where children can be open and honest about their mistakes and actually come to you if they need help working through them.


Now what if you applied this same philosophy to yourself? Chances are good that if you are hard on your children when they make a mistake, you are even harder on yourself!  Can you see your own mistakes as opportunities in work clothes? Remember, your children may not always do as you say, but they are watching and absorbing you and in the long run, rarely fail to imitate you.  In fact it is estimated that we automatically repeat 85% of our parents’ habits.


Awareness is key to creating the change you want. How do you react to your children’s ‘little mistakes’ – spilt milk, mud tracked in on the floor, a failed test score?  Do you feel you need to punish your child to make him change his behavior?  Do you take it personally and subconsciously believe it to be evidence that you are a bad parent?


  • Notice how you respond to the little mistakes in life – both yours and your child’s.  And next time either one of you makes a mistake, let go of the idea that you must make your child – or yourself- feel worse about it.  (Does guilt tripping ourselves actually strengthen our ability to deal with the situation?)
  • See mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.  See the tough times as opportunities to be close and supportive with your child. When he makes a mistake, focus your attention on connecting with him and supporting him in finding the solution.
  • Most kids will gladly wipe up the mud they’ve tracked in if they are approached with respect and asked to do so.  Little ones often enjoy wiping up the milk even if it’s not done perfectly.  (And yes, it’s okay to enjoy correcting one’s mistakes!  Just think of how much better your life would be if you could embrace that attitude.)
  • Low test scores are something kids often need support with in understanding what went wrong and how to improve.  They may need parents to turn off the TV so that they can get on with their homework, a quieter place to study, a tutor or special help with their homework, or they may simply need to experience the consequences of not bothering to study.  They already face the consequence of the low mark; they don’t need parents to punish them on top of that.
  • A child who has hurt his sibling needs an invitation and an opportunity to make amends – not a phoney ‘sorry strategy,’ or a punishment to ‘make’ him feel bad.  How can we ever hope to foster loving relationships using fear and punishment?  Acknowledge that the child who hurt his sibling was hurting inside himself.  (No one hurts another unless they themselves are hurting inside.)  Let him know you understand his hurt and invite him to make amends when ready.  (See 9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child for more specific details in how to handle such situations.)


One thing is for sure – when we approach mistakes – both ours and our child’s – as opportunities to learn and grow our whole world changes… and that change will be felt for generations to come!



9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child;
9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child – Especially When They Misbehave!

Maggie ReighMaggie's Bio: Maggie Reigh is an international speaker, playshop facilitator, and storyteller, as well as a certified hypnotherapist. She is the author of the book and program series '9 Ways to Bring Out the Best in You & Your Child', and of the family activity package, 'Taking the Terror Out of Temper Tantrums'. Maggie specializes in helping people to release deeply embedded thought and behavior patterns that no longer work so that they can create joyful, positive, and meaningful relationships with self and others. Contact Maggie through her website. Lake Country BC - Maggie Reigh Website - Email

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