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When Our Kids Mess Up

Four things to remember when your kids make mistakes

I will never forget the time my husband and I flew in for our son’s first Division 1 baseball game. It was to be a proud moment when our son would shine as we basked in the glory!  Unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out that way. Our pride was quickly deflated as we watched our son fly out in the ninth inning then pound the ground in a fit of anger—so hard, that he broke his hand.

On our way to the hospital for x-rays, I had to contain myself from yelling, “Are you an idiot? What is wrong with you? How could you have such a bad temper?” And of course, “Where did I go wrong as a mother?”

As a consequence, the coach wouldn’t allow him in the dugout with the team for the rest of the weekend. The humiliation heightened as the three of us sat in the stands amongst the team’s parents. How about that for a first impression? I fought the temptation to hide out on the other side of the stands—pretending I wasn’t there.

I am reluctant to say how many times I have been embarrassed by my kid’s mistakes. Remember when our kids were younger and they threw a temper tantrum in the grocery store? And, we thought that was bad!

Yet, I need to remember how often I too make mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural and essential part of learning, growing, and life.

So how do you respond when your kids mess up?

Here are four things to remember when your kids make mistakes.

  1. Let go of your ego and give your kids the space and grace to make mistakes.  

There are perks as a parent when our kids are succeeding. We often get positive attention from others, pat ourselves on the back and feel like we are doing a great job as a parent. But, what does it mean when one of our kids messes up? Is our worth as a parent measured by our children’s performance? And, what about their worth and value? Could we be sending the message that our approval (or for that matter, our happiness) is dependent on their accomplishments?

I have to ask myself on a regular basis what messages I am sending to my kids. I want them to hear loud and clear that it is their life to live. I want them to know that no matter what they do, they matter to me and I will love and accept them. Then, I need to get out there and live my own life. 

  1. Believe in your child’s ability to solve his/her own problems.

We send an invaluable message to our kids when we have faith in their ability to solve their own problems—rather than jumping in and fixing the mistakes they make. By listening and asking questions, we will better equip them to come up with their own solutions. When we hand the responsibility back to them and believe in their ability to solve the problems, the likelihood to rise to the occasion increases ten-fold.

  1. Don’t allow your emotions to short change your child’s opportunity for growth.

When my son broke his hand I felt embarrassed and disappointed. I could have chosen to discharge my feelings by yelling at my son or the coach for punishing him like he did. But as we know, neither of these choices would have been helpful. Honestly, I was grateful the coach took a tough stand. Our son needed to feel the pain and ramifications of his mistake. The most loving action was to allow our son to face the natural consequences. They have a way of being better teachers than we ever could. As parents this can be painful to watch. We must “bite the bullet” and resist rescuing no matter how difficult this feels. If we rescue them today, it will only be a matter of time when we find ourselves back in this familiar place wanting to rescue them again.

  1. Give yourself grace to make mistakes.

I believe that giving our children the freedom to make mistakes has less to do with our kids and more to do with us. Remember what I wanted to say to my son when he broke his hand? Would you be surprised if I told you that those are the same words that I need to use with myself? I am learning to shut the voices down and extend myself grace. Life is about learning, no matter what age. We are going to mess up.

When we accept our own flaws and failures, we increase our own capacity to extend the same to our children. Our homes become a place of unconditional acceptance to be human, authentic and honest. Each of us is worthy of being loved, accepted and valued, regardless of the mistakes we make.

Recently, my son was interviewed for an article by a local magazine. Here is an excerpt that truly validated the learning experience…

“For Gould, his experiences with Tribe baseball have been about growing up. “Fun fact: my first-ever college game, I flew out to end the game against Clemson and I punched the ground,” Gould says. He ended up breaking his hand and didn’t play much his freshman year. “So that was my psycho moment. That was definitely a huge learning experience.” (Article by Kelly Freud, William and Mary Alumni Magazine)

There you have it. It is about growing up and learning from our mistakes. I didn’t have to say a thing. So when our children “mess up”, let us view this as an opportunity, not only for their own growth and development, but for ours as well.

Questions: What challenges do you face when your kids mess up? Have you had an episode of explosion when the moment was too stressful? Or, were you one to save the day and not allow your child to experience life’s ups and downs? If so, do you feel this hindered him/her in any way?

teenage mistakes