Dads, Kids, And Mistakes
We're sitting at the breakfast table, and we're in a hurry. The kids were slow to get dressed for school this morning, and we needed to get out the door soon. "Clank!" My five-year-old son spills his glass of milk all over the table and the floor. He and my daughter become statues as they gaze at the mess. I feel my mind begin to race and an urge to raise my voice.
And then, I remember to take a breath. "What do you need to do, buddy?" My son jumps out of his seat and gets a towel to wipe up the mess. I'm able to avoid critical comments, and he's able to feel better after cleaning up. Yet I know it was a close call. It was another incident that might easily have gone a different direction, a direction that could cost my son dearly in terms of esteem and confidence.
One of the most difficult parts of being a father is learning to accept your children's mistakes. It's easy to be loving, supportive, and helpful when your kids are mistake-free, but most fathers who pay attention don't find too many mistake-free periods of their kids lives.
Let's be clear about this. Kids don't enjoy making mistakes. They usually try to do their best; but they're doing their best considering the resources they have at the time. Sometimes they're tired, sometimes they're easily distracted, and sometimes they're strong-willed, but they generally do the best they can.
Making mistakes is simply one of the ways that kids learn about the world!
When our kids make mistakes, we have choices to make. Fathers can either make choices that help create kids who are defensive and who lie to them, or they can make choices that help create kids who learn from their mistakes and improve on them.
Kids who fear punishment or the loss of love in response to their mistakes learn to hide their mistakes. These children live in two different places--one where they have the love and support of their father (parents), and one where they feel that if their mistakes were discovered, they'd be undeserving of that love. It's hard for these kids to fully accept their parents' love and support even when it's expressed. It's also difficult for these kids to set high standards for themselves, because they tend to be fearful of failing.
In short, these kids have learned the painful feelings of shame. They weren't born with these feelings- they learn them.
Here are some ideas for fathers who are committed to helping create kids who can learn from their mistakes, and who aren't afraid of making a few:
Absolutely accept the notion that your kids are doing their best, and that they'll learn faster from their mistakes if they're in an environment that accepts mistakes.
Understand that your difficulty with your kids' mistakes is in fact a reflection of your own esteem; be aware of this and deal with your own issues first.
Know the shaming messages that you give to your kids--messages that do a lot of damage. Here's a few of them:
How could you have done that?
You don't listen to me!
You can do better than that!
What's the matter with you?
Keep providing your kids with learning experiences, but at the same time structure their environment so they can't make too many mistakes (don't have expensive glassware around the house where children play).
Provide a great model for your children by the way you react to making mistakes: do you get defensive and stretch the truth, or do you own the mistake and learn something from it? Create a culture that's based on learning from mistakes.
Shame and judgment don't need to be family values in your home. Before you shame your kids, reflect back on your own mistakes.
Unless, of course, you haven't made any.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches busy parents by phone to balance their life and improve their family relationships. For a FREE twenty minute sample session by phone; ebooks, courses, articles, and a FREE newsletter, go to http://www.markbrandenburg.com/. or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.