Learning from Mistakes

No matter how hard they try, sometimes children make mistakes. Whether your child has done a good job or has failed, try to focus on what it is she has done rather than on her personally. For example, if she remembers to wipe her feet before coming in the house, thank her for wiping her feet rather than simply telling her she’s a good girl. Telling her she’s a “good girl” doesn’t help build her self-confidence. It makes her dependent on your judgment and she may not know what being a “good girl” actually means. For example, if she were to forget to wipe her feet, tell her you’re upset when she does that because then you have to clean it up. This statement focuses on what she did, not what she is or is not. Don’t tell her she’s a “dumb, sloppy person.” Such generalized blame and criticism only causes feelings of guilt. It destroys self-confidence and doesn’t teach better behavior. If you learn to say what you mean and mean what you say, you’ll help your child learn from her mistakes and at the same time, feel good about herself rather than feeling she’s a bad person for making mistakes. Helping your child feel good about herself is one of the most important jobs you have as a parent. Don’t worry if you sometimes do things that you don’t feel are helpful in building your child’s self-confidence. What’s important is the overall consistency of your behavior. Teach her to accept and learn from her mistakes; to strive to be the best she can be, and to expect to be successful in whatever she seeks to achieve.

Respecting the Rights and Feeling of Others

The patterns for a child’s relationships with other people are learned in his early years. He learns how to respond to others and how to treat them from the ways he is treated. These patterns are carried into his adult life. You can help your child learn to respect the feelings, needs and rights of others without sacrificing his own feelings, needs and rights. The place to start is your relationship with him. Do you sometimes keep your feelings to yourself when your child has done something that annoyed you or made you angry because you don’t want to hurt his feelings? Do you hesitate to say no when he asks you to do or get something for him, even though you really don’t want to do what he’s asked? This kind of well-meaning sacrifice of your own needs to those of your child is unfair to both you and him. You don’t give him a chance to learn to respect your needs when you don’t let him know what they are. Being either overly demanding of other people or overly sacrificing of one’s own needs usually creates problems in relationships. The continuous sacrifice of your own needs creates negative feelings that don’t go away just because you don’t want to express them. They may boil beneath the surface, causing you to resent the things you used to do for your child with pleasure. Or they may eventually explode in anger over an apparently unimportant manner. Either way, they will interfere with your relationship. It’s important that you treat your child in ways that encourage him to express his needs and feelings. It’s equally important that you be honest with him about your own needs.

Positive Conversations

Positive conversations that can change a child’s behavior begin with:

  • I like the way you are . . .
  • I believe in you I know you can . . .
  • I love you, but I don’t like . . .
  • I will help you. We will do this together.
  • You are so (smart, sweet, strong) that I think you can do better.
  • Most of the time, you do this really well. Can you try harder today?
  • I’m so proud of you because . . .
  • Let’s use our quiet voices. You are making a little too much noise.
  • I am disappointed with what you did. I know that you can do better.
  • Are you being a good helper?
  • Are you doing your best?
  • Have you shown Alice how much you like to share?
  • I need you to . . .