Making mistakes in parenting is a part of the experience. Parents are human; no one can be expected to be flawless. The process of raising young children is no exception. We all make mistakes but it is how we respond to those mistakes that really shows our true character.
The amazing part about making mistakes in parenting is that it provides an opportunity to model for children how to behave in the aftermath. Modeling appropriate ways of handling mistakes shows children that we are all human, prone to making mistakes and capable of accepting responsibility.
- Label and validate feelings: Try saying aloud how you are feeling. “I just made the biggest mistake and I feel lousy!” or “I’m feeling really badly that I did something I didn’t mean to.” When children see adults talking about their feelings it normalizes the process and helps them to feel less isolated in their own experiences. Likewise, giving validation to feelings aids in the process of healing and moving beyond the uncomfortable feelings that making mistakes might bring.
- Accept responsibility: Being accountable for your actions shows those around you that you acknowledge that you have messed up and you recognize it. Taking responsibility for our actions, good or bad, shows children that we are autonomous and others are not responsible for our feelings.
- Do the repair work: If you hurt someone’s feelings or took misplaced anger or frustration out on another person, be sure to do the repair work as soon as possible. Doing repair work in your relationships (not just with your children!) can make all the difference in the world in building lasting trust. When we step up and apologize, it is an act of love.
- Be kind to yourself: Beating yourself up for making mistakes is not in the service of healing and can be quite damaging to your self-esteem. Use kind words with yourself when you make mistakes. Observe the internal language you use with yourself. Is it negative? Are you shaming and blaming, or are you forgiving and accepting? If you observe negative self-talk, try the affirmation, “I am doing the best I can.” Talk to yourself with the same kindness you might use with a close friend or your children.
- Pledge to do better: If the mistake you have made affected people around you, make a pledge to yourself and those people to do better. Saying “I know I made this mistake, but I will do better” can be not only a way to acknowledge the mistake made, but a commitment to trying to do better in the future and a way to reassure people around you that you are trying your best.
Remember to forgive yourself along the way; parenting (and life!) is hard work that requires practice.