Mistakes are an important part of life and, if you can’t admit to them, you have to pretend you’re perfect, which is very hard work. Or you can never try anything new, which is limiting. One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is the sense that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as they also fix them. This might include:
– Apologising — being willing to admit we were wrong and to say ‘sorry’.
– Openness — explaining our intentions and ‘where we were coming from’.
– Telling the truth and owning up to our actions.
– Taking responsibility — fixing the damage, paying the cost, and so on.
Janice, 38, walked into her five-year-old son’s room to find him quickly pushing a chocolate wrapper under his bed. ‘He looked so suspicious,’ she told us, ‘I knew something was amiss.’ It soon became clear he had taken the chocolate while they were at the shops earlier that day.
Richard, I’m really upset about this. Taking without paying is stealing and stealing is wrong. What are you going to do to fix it? / won’t take anything ever again.
That’s good. But what about this chocolate bar? / can’t take it back; I’ve nearly eaten it all.
So what do you think you can do? / don’t know.
Well, you took it without paying for it. They cost about 50p. I think you need to go back to the shop and explain, and give them 50p from your money box. (Richard went very pale.) Can you give them the money, Mum?
No, I didn’t take the chocolate. You need to fix this with the shopkeeper. I’ll come with you.
How about we go now?
Yep. You’ll feel much better when it’s fixed. (as they drove to the shopping centre, Janice helped Richard figure out what he would say to the shopkeeper.)
How about saying I accidentally took it?
No. That’s not true. What is true? / took it without paying and I’m sorry I did. I want to pay for it now.
Janice also felt a lot better when this was over. The shopkeeper was amused and very cooperative, though he behaved sternly enough for Richard to get the message. Most adults and kids are reasonable, but you need to stand by young children as they fix their mistakes, to make sure they are neither unduly persecuted nor rescued.
Sometimes kids persist in stealing or other unacceptable behaviour when they are having problems, feeling neglected or even suffering abuse. They should still sort out the problem as above, but we need to be alert to what may be the underlying cause. An important question is: what was going on in the child’s life when this problem surfaced?
A final point — kids only really learn the skills that we have mastered, so we need to model the behaviour we want in our dealings with them. When we break an agreement or forget a commitment, we should say ‘sorry’, fix the problem and not use excuses.
Kids keep us honest. We can show them how mistakes can be turned into positive outcomes. The result will be real poise and maturity for us and our children.