The other day I made a mistake…or should I say another mistake. It’s true. It was actually one of the many mistakes I’ve made over my lifetime. Anyway, I made a mistake. Fortunately, my life is full of gracious people who acknowledged my mistake and continued to love me. Sure, they got a little upset…and some even laugh about my mistake. But they still helped me learn to avoid the same mistake in the future. And, as a result, I did learn. I grew; and hopefully I’ll avoid repeating that mistake in the future.
All this “got me thinking.” Children, like adults, make mistakes. Sometimes they make mistakes because of a lack of knowledge. Sometimes they make mistakes trying to “get away with something.” Sometimes they simply make a mistake. I have to say, as an adult, I have made mistakes for the same three reasons. Haven’t you?
But there seems to be a difference in how people respond to the mistake I make as an adult and the mistake a child makes. Let me explain. When a child makes a mistake, adults often seem to get angry. They treat the child’s mistake as an afront to their parenthood and their authority. They yell, often making the child feel worse and as though that mistake has defined them as a person. They dismiss the child’s explanations as excuses, often not even considering any positive intent behind his mistaken actions or words. They punish the child, sometimes harshly and in anger. And many do not teach the child how to avoid the mistake in the future.
However, when I make a mistake as an adult, the people in my life trust me to learn and grow from the natural consequence of my mistake. Even if they are upset or angry, they remain respectful. No one really yells. Many even listen to the explanations I give for my mistaken behavior. They allow me to explain the intent behind my actions…even if they disagree, they accept my explanation. They accept my intent while offering me guidance on how to avoid the mistake while achieving that intent in the future. All the while, they remain respectful (even in their anger) and they speak to me in a way that can help me listen.
If my friends and my family responded to my mistake in the same manner that I often see adults respond to a child’s mistake, I would walk away. I’d feel hurt, dishonored, even abused. I wouldn’t learn. I wouldn’t grow. I’d get defensive. I might even end the friendship. What makes us think children feel differently?
This leads me to an important lesson I learned about correcting my children…our children. Our children will respond to correction and discipline more readily when we approach them with respect. They will learn and grow when we take the time to learn about the intent and motivation behind their inappropriate behavior or words before respectfully pointing out what they did wrong. They will mature as we listen carefully, not just to their words but to the message of their behavior, before we offer them loving guidance on how to behave differently in the future.
In other words, our children will learn from their mistakes more readily when we approach them with the same respect that we give our adult friends. They will grow more mature when we approach them with the expectation that they want to learn and grow. We can all learn and grow from our mistakes, adults and children alike, when we approach both with acceptance, respect, and love.