Positive Discipline: Embracing Mistakes

by Heligirl on June 6, 2011

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles,Positive Discipline

This parenting journey is quite the job. Despite my most valiant efforts and deep commitment to positive discipline, I often find myself making and correcting mistakes. And the first thought that runs through my mind when I make a mistake is “I’m a failure, I’m a bad mom, My kids are going to need therapy.”

However, positive discipline itself encourages us to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities for our children. The street goes both ways in that department.

When it comes to mistakes, many of us immediately conjure up negative thoughts and feelings – mistakes are bad, I’m inadequate, I shouldn’t make mistakes, I’m a failure, I’m stupid, etc. Some of us believe if we do make mistakes we need to cover them up or hide them (lie), going so far as to make excuses or blame them on others.

Jane Nelsen in her book Positive Discipline A-Z describes these thoughts as “crazy notions” because they not only damage self esteem, but invite discouragement and even depression.

To err is human. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Trying to hide them or cover them up only digs a deeper hole and further erodes self esteem. However, people on a whole are pretty willing to forgive when someone honestly takes responsibility for a mistake and takes steps to remedy the situation. I’ve seen this kind of action lead to more respect and responsibility in the workplace, so I know she’s not selling snake oil here.

Now imagine if your child took that kind of responsibility. You’re expecting a lie, maybe a cover up, or even blaming a sibling. But then the fruit of your loins announces he spilled the milk on the floor, he needs a towel to clean it up. Doesn’t the quick annoyed reaction that there is a mess on the carpet suddenly lessen as a new respect rises up? He’s taken responsibility.

We can help our children avoid fear of mistakes by telling them the basic truth that everyone makes mistakes. They always will as long as they live. Therefore, look at your mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow instead of signs of inadequacy.

Tell your children that on a whole making mistakes isn’t as important as what they do about them. Anyone can make a mistake, but it takes a special person to say “I’m wrong and I’m sorry. This is how I’m going to fix it.”

And remember parents and caregivers, the same goes for you. We make mistakes too and need to admit them and learn from them. Model the behavior you want your kids to learn.

Just as I was writing this I heard Sweetness come out of her room during nap to use the bathroom. It seemed to be taking a very long time, then I heard the plunger in the toilet bowl. I ran to see what was going on, preconditioned to her desire to procrastinate. I was stern with her, sent her back to her room.

Then I noticed the toilet was in fact clogged. My little 3-year-old had watched me pull out this instrument of fixit and push it around in the toilet before to get it to flush. She was taking initiative to fix the problem herself. And I yelled at her to stop messing around and go back to bed.

I got the toilet working again and called her back into the bathroom (she’d been standing around the corner feeling sheepish). I told her what I saw, that she was trying to fix the toilet. I told her I was sorry that I raised my voice and I recognized she was just trying to be helpful. I thanked her for her effort and gave her a kiss. She smiled and said “ok.” All was forgiven.

When it comes to recovering from a mistake, here’s an easy trick to teach your kids, and practice yourself:

Three Rs of Recovery

Recognize the mistake with a feeling of responsibility instead of blame.

Reconcile by apologizing to the people you have offended, hurt, or let down.

Resolve the problem, when possible, by working together on a solution.

And parents, please don’t ever think of yourself as a failure or bad parent for mistakes. If you can practice the 3 Rs with your kids, you’re way ahead of the game in the success department, and so are they.

Side note: Just a few days after posting this, I found this great post on Mamapedia from Mandyland. She’s a great writer with a fascinating practice in her family when it comes to mistakes.




Susan June 6, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. It is a fabulous reminder for us all. The 3 R’s of recovery are some of my favorite lessons that I have learned from PD. I have apologized and used the 3 R’s with my son so many times that I can’t keep count. And I try to keep in mind that making a mistake is just learning that one way didn’t work, and I need to try it a different way.

Now when my son spills his cup (which he does often), he just grabs a kitchen towel or 3 and does his best to mop it up. He has even gotten to where he’ll put the wet towels in the laundry. Currently, I’m showing him that after he mops up with the towels, he may still need to grab a wet kitchen cloth to get the last of the stickiness up. He’s getting it!
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Twitter: Heligirl
June 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm

You’re so welcome Susan. I love that your little guy is cleaning up messes himself. This morning I caught Sweetness doing the same thing. I wish I could say it was milk, but she was in the bathroom. I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks. I was proud of her cleaning up her “spill” none the less. 🙂

Lucy @ lucille in the sky
Twitter: lucilleinthesky
June 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I can relate. Sometimes I worry that I’m going to totally screw up my kids. And the more time I spend with my parents as adults, the more I can see my own flaws reflected in those of my parents. I am determined to break some of the negative habits…but it can be really hard. I’m a stress case anyways! Oh well. The first step to change is awareness.

I love this: “look at your mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow instead of signs of inadequacy.” And will be sharing with my husband along with the three R’s. Thanks, Jen!

Twitter: Heligirl
June 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Exactly! I hear myself saying things my mom did, which makes me cringe. I want the kids to learn out of a desire to do better, not out of fear of getting in trouble.

I so love that quote too. It’s directly from Jane. She’s my hero! Let me know what the hubby thinks. 🙂

Twitter: unvlmom
June 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Great advice, I’m bookmarking this article so I can come back and read more of it later as I’m stopping by tonight from the #commenthour.
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StephanieinSuburbia June 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm

This makes SO MUCH SENSE! Sometimes I think as parents as much as we love our kids, we’re not always so empathetic with them. Like with tantrums. I do try to be understanding when Wee ‘Burb loses it after I say no. She just wants to explore and be independent and I stop her and it must be SO ANNOYING, like a super micromanaging boss there ALL THE TIME.

I love the idea of taking responsibility, especially. We should view it as a maturity thing, that they recognize there’s an issue and they’re looking to solve it, just as you say.

Great post!

2commentaristas June 8, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with this post. If we can really put into practice positive reinforcement, then I think we can change a lot of the problems we see in today’s society.

visiting from #commenthour
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Mamie Saunders June 9, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Your post is a great reminder to all of us as a parents. We love our kids more than ourselves. I let my son do in his own to be independent and also let him do a household chores. I’m really thankful about your post specially your three Rs of recovery.
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albertina@espressomakersandmachines.com June 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I love this post! Thank you very much for sharing this with us! I wholeheartedly agree on your points and with the Three Rs of Recovery. And you have really good point here: “To err is human. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Trying to hide them or cover them up only digs a deeper hole and further erodes self esteem. However, people on a whole are pretty willing to forgive when someone honestly takes responsibility for a mistake and takes steps to remedy the situation. “It applies both in parenting and being human. I share your link on facebook. Thank you. 🙂
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