One of the most difficult parts of being a father is learning to accept your children’s mistakes. It certainly can be easy to be loving, supportive, and helpful when your children are mistake-free, but most fathers who are paying attention don’t find too many mistake-free periods of their children’s lives.
Let’s be clear about our kids and their mistakes. There aren’t too many kids who get up in the morning, rub their hands together and say, ”I wonder how I can screw up today and really bother my dad!” Kids don’t enjoy or want to make mistakes, it’s just one of the ways that they learn about the world.
Kids usually try to do their best; it’s just that they are doing their best considering the resources that they have at the time. Sometimes they’re tired, sometimes they’re easily distracted, and sometimes they’re strong-willed, but they generally do the best that they can. It’s very easy for us to judge them according to standards of what they’ve done before.
When our kids make mistakes, we have choices to make. Fathers can either make choices that help to create kids who are defensive and who lie to them … or they can make choices that help to create kids who can learn from their mistakes and improve upon them.
Kids who fear punishment or the loss of love in response to their mistakes learn to hide their mistakes. These children live in two different places—one place where they have the love and support of their father (parents), and another where they feel that if their mistakes were discovered, they would be undeserving of that love. It is hard for these kids to fully accept their parents’ love and support even when it is expressed. It is also difficult for these kids to set high standards for themselves, because they tend to be fearful of failing.
These are some ideas for fathers who are committed to helping create kids who can learn from their mistakes, and who are not afraid of making a few:
Absolutely accept the notion that your kids are doing their best, and that they will learn faster about their mistakes if they are in an environment that accepts mistakes.
Understand that your difficulty with your kids’ mistakes is in fact a reflection of your difficulty dealing with your own mistakes; be aware of this and deal with your own issues first.
Know the “shaming” messages that we can all give so easily to our kids—messages that can do a lot of damage to them and help them to feel unworthy. Here’s a few of them:
- How could you have done that?
- You don’t listen to me!
- You can do better than hat!
- What’s the matter with you?
Keep providing your kids with learning experiences, but at the same time structure their environment so they can’t make too many mistakes (having expensive glassware around the house where children might break it is not their fault).
Provide a great model for your children by the way you react to making mistakes: do you get defensive and stretch the truth, or do you “own” the mistake and learn something from it? Create a “culture” that is based on learning from mistakes.
We have only one chance to show our kids the patience and discipline necessary to allow them to learn from the mistakes that we’ve all made. Your opportunity to improve just started now; give your kids the room that they need and deserve.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is a certified personal coach, father, speaker, and workshop leader who helps men to create balance in their lives and to improve their family relationships. He is the author of “25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers” and can be reached at www.markbrandenburg.com.