Oops! Now What?
“There is much to be said for failure.
It is more interesting than success.”
“Dan and Jenny settled in to watch a movie after a long day caring for their busy toddlers. Imagine their frustration when the DVD would not go into the player. Upon closer inspection, they discovered fruit snacks jammed into the machine. “This is the worst thing those boys have done yet!” cried Jenny angrily. “Now they broke the DVD player.”
We’ve seen how positive and negative messages influence adults and children. What and how parents communicate about mistakes provides powerful messages to their children. Top 20 Parents are aware of how they feel about their own mistakes and how they respond to their children’s mistakes.
When we make mistakes we often get responses from other people. Positive responses include forgiving, understanding, helping and supporting. More common, however, are negative reactions:
• showing anger
• being sarcastic
• being disappointed
• withdrawing affection
• bringing it up again
• giving disapproving looks
If these are the reactions we get when we make a mistake, the message is loud and clear, “YOU BETTER NOT MAKE A MISTAKE.” However, as human beings we are going to make mistakes. What we hear as messages about our mistakes can influence our beliefs about ourselves and mistake making. These in turn will affect how we communicate with our children.
OUR RESPONSES TO MISTAKES
As you might expect, we will treat mistakes differently depending on whether we are in a Top 20 or Bottom 80 state of mind. Following are four common Bottom 80 reactions.
Denial: We cover up the mistake or pretend it didn’t happen. If someone else brings it up, we deny it or get defensive.
Blame: We acknowledge the mistake but blame someone else for it: ”He did it” or ” She made me do it.” In blaming others we avoid responsibility.
Justify: We admit to the mistake but give reasons for our actions to avoid negative reactions from others: “I didn’t get the bills paid on time because I was helping the kids with their homework.”
Dwell: We focus on nothing else but the mistake and allow the mistake to define us: “I’m so stupid. I never do anything right. I’ll never be able to get over this.”
These are considered Bottom 80 reactions because they do not lead to learning the lesson life intends for us to learn from a mistake. When we don’t get the lesson, we are more likely to repeat the mistake. As we know, the consequences for repeated mistakes become more and more severe.
Top 20s respond to a mistake by owning it and learning the lesson. By using a mistake as a teacher, we can learn the lesson life is offering us: “Oops! Look what I just did. I wonder what I can learn from this?”
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
MESSAGES ABOUT MISTAKES
Parents can have unrealistic expectations about what young children can do and label as mistakes behaviors that are really quite typical for a child’s developmental age. Young children can be clumsy, slow, irritating and noisy. Although they may do this repeatedly, these behaviors are what we would expect of young children as they develop. Parents who punish a child for what is age appropriate behavior
misunderstand a child’s normal development and needs.
The messages parents send about mistakes leaves a powerful mental and emotional imprint on children. Top 20 Parents help their children learn positive lessons from mistakes. Bottom 80 Parents pass on negative messages when their children make mistakes.
A BOTTOM 80 PARENTAL REACTION:
Bottom 80 Lessons about Mistake Making: If children are talked to in this fashion, what are the likely messages they get from making mistakes?
1. You can’t do anything right. If a parent’s immediate reaction is about failure, then a child’s value and worth will be diminished. She will come to believe, “I’m not good enough.”
2. Avoid trying things because you might make a mistake. When children get this message, their natural curiosity begins to shut down. They will avoid taking healthy risks that lead to growth and learning.
3. The lesson is in the punishment. If kids have learned that mistakes require punishment, they will fear mistakes and learn to lie, blame and deny in order to avoid embarrassment or punishment.
A TOP 20 PARENTAL RESPONSE:
Dan remembered something he had heard from the early childhood teacher.
Dan: “Toddlers have a developmental urge to stuff things into small places to learn about volume.”
Jenny: “I didn’t realize that. Hmmm, tomorrow let’s give them containers for stuffing.”
Dan: “And let’s help them clean up the DVD player.”
Jenny: “Yeah and put the DVD player out of their reach.”
Top 20 Lessons about Mistake Making: If we want our children to not fear mistakes and continually grow from life experiences, some crucial messages need to be communicated when they make mistakes.
1. You are more important than the mistake. If a parent’s immediate concern is for the child’s well-being and safety, then the child’s value and worth will be reinforced.
2. Help is available when we make a mistake. One of our purposes as parents is to help our children when they experience difficulties. It is not our responsibility to take care of the entire problem and clean up the mess for them, but to support our kids in making things better.
3. Things can be made better after a mistake. When we make a mistake, we’re responsible for fixing things or cleaning up the mess.
4. Lessons are in the mistake. Life intends for parents and children to learn important lessons from the mistakes they make.
5. Mistakes are wonderful. Because many wonderful things can be learned from mistakes, they are to be valued and not avoided.
Children need to experience mistakes in such a way that they know that failure is an event, not a person. Top 20 Parents communicate messages to their children that failure is just an event from which we can benefit. Failure should not be a label for who a child is but for what he has done.
“Learning that we are capable of making up for a mistake or an accident is very important to the development of self-esteem.”
DEVELOPMENTAL NEWS FLASH!
Since the messages children receive from mistake making impact their growth, parents need to keep development in mind when they respond to their children’s behavior.
Young children are uncoordinated. Kids will make many mistakes because they are clumsy. They have not fully mastered the coordination of their bodies and muscles.
The logic of young children is faulty. Because they are cognitively immature, young children will get mixed up in their thinking about concepts and solutions. For example, a child may repeatedly try to jam a puzzle piece into the wrong place. She may misjudge her own ability and carry a bucket that is clearly too heavy for her, thereby spilling the contents.
Young children have fewer inhibitions about their behaviors. They may pick their noses in public, unaware of the inappropriateness of that action. They may say things that are inappropriate to adults: ” Hey, lady, you’ve got a lot of wrinkles!”
Young children cannot use memory reliably to make connections. Their brains are not yet mature enough for learning by thinking about a past event. Therefore, giving a young child a Time Out to ‘think about what you’ve done’ will often be useless.
Young children are not able to connect cause and effect reliably. Because of development, children need to be guided to see the connections between their behaviors and their responsibility. They cannot reliably process past errors and make improvements for ‘Next Time’.
Young children learn best through experimentation, exploration and experiencing new things. They are curious problem solvers and enthusiastic explorers who can create messes and court danger unaware of the consequences of their behaviors.
THE BIG LEARNING OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT ZONE
Because it’s easy for us to do things insideour Comfort Zone, we may be reluctant to try things outsideour Comfort Zone.
Thomas Edison failed hundreds of times before he found a workable filament for the light bulb. Like Edison, children need to go through mistakes if they are going to get Big Learning. But, if we teach them to fear mistakes, they’ll only hang out in the safety of their Comfort Zone.
Top 20 Kids move outside their Comfort Zone to take healthy risks and learn from mistakes. The more they do it, the more they learn and the easier it gets. As a result, Top 20 Kids succeed at higher and higher levels.
Mistakes will happen in life. How we A.C.T. to our own mistakes and the mistakes of our children will send them powerful messages and lessons that will result in their learning from or fearing mistakes and venturing out or staying locked inside their Comfort Zone.
A is Awareness.As parents, we need to be Aware of our beliefs about ourselves as mistake makers. These beliefs have come from the messages from others when we have made mistakes. Awareness of our beliefs is critical because those beliefs will activate our reactions or responses when our children make mistakes.
C is Conscious Choice.Top 20 Parents make two Conscious Choices: how they want to respond when they make a mistake and when their children make a mistake. Aphrase that can be helpful when we make a mistake is: “Oops, look what I just did. I wonder what I can learn from this.” This phrase focuses us on taking responsibility for the mistake and seeking the lesson we need to learn. AConscious Choice phrase we can use when our children make a mistake is: “What can we learn from this?”
T is Talking.Top 20 Parents talk about their own mistake making with their children. For example, a mother during dinner might say to her family, “I made a mistake at work today. I’d like to share it with you. Maybe you can help me learn everything I can from that mistake.” In this way, parents demonstrate to children that mistakes are valuable life experiences not to be hidden or denied.
How do children learn to correct their mistakes? By watching how you correct yours.
How do children learn to overcome their failures? By watching how your overcome yours.
How do children learn to treat themselves with forgiveness? By watching you forgive yourself. Therefore, your mistakes and your failures are blessings, opportunities for the best in parenting.
-Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching, Adapted by William Martin
TIME FOR ACTION
For Parents to Do:
1. What messages or lessons about mistakes did you get growing up?
2. How do you handle your own mistakes now? What changes, if any, do you want to make in thinking about your own mistakes?
3. What messages about mistake making do you want to communicate to your child?
4. Talk with your family about a mistake you have made and invite them to help you learn the lessons embedded in that experience.
To Do with Your Child:
1. Keep track of actions that your child views as mistakes (spilling milk, breaking a toy) and to which he reacts negatively.
2. Role-play mistake making with your child and practice the phrase: “Oops. Look what I just did. I wonder what I can learn from this.”
3. Help your child learn valuable lessons from mistakes instead of denying, blaming, justifying or dwelling. Discuss solutions and prevention for ‘Next Time’.
4.Read to your child books that address mistake making.