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Learning From and Repairing Mistakes

As parents, we feel a lot of pressure to do things ‘right’ all the time. That’s not possible.  

According to the latest brain science, mistakes are powerful learning cues for adults as well as children. Because of school closures, we are parenting around the clock. In many cases, we’ve stepped into the role of our child’s teacher. We’re wearing so many hats, mistakes are inevitable.

As parents, we may think we shouldn’t apologize to children. We may even have been raised that way – our parents never apologized to us! We might be unaccustomed to being vulnerable enough to admit we made a mistake to anyone, let alone our children. It takes courage. But anyone can learn how.

We learn by admitting our mistakes. Doing so models a valuable life skill and builds connection, trust, and confidence. It makes our kids more resilient!

But how do we do it? Owning up to being wrong is more than saying “I’m sorry.” It’s committing to do better next time. Here are the four Rs of recovery from a mistake:

The Four Rs of Mistake Recovery

Regather

Before making a repair, it’s important to take time to return to calm. Depending on the mistake, this can take a few minutes. Breathe, walk. For more ways to self-regulate, check out our Self-Regulation Tool cards.

Recognize and take Responsibility

Notice that you have made a mistake and take responsibility for it. “I understand that I blew it…I made a mistake.”

Reconcile

Apologize for blowing it. Tell your child that you wish you’d handled the situation differently. “I am sorry. I wish I’d handled that differently.” Be brief; avoid giving explanations.

Resolve (Re-Solve) 

Commit to finding a better solution and to doing it differently next time. “Let’s come up with a solution together. I want to do better next time.”

Resources

Family meetings are a good place to practice repair. Learn more about Family Meetings here.

Repair is a Powerful Tool for Learning and Connection 

Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn, Positive Discipline

The Three Rs of Recovery, Positive Discipline

The Three Parts of an Effective Apology, Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley

How to model an apology for a young child, video from Sproutable

The Power of Showing Up by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Faye Bryson. This book encourages us to embrace the mistakes we make. The process of being present with our kids, solving problems and making a repair, can bring us closer.

Activities

Celebrate mistakes as a family

Encourage every member of the family to notice their mistakes, and then pause to celebrate – you can make up a family cheer, or a special signal to acknowledge the mistake.

Mistake Connection Moments

At the dinner table or any time you are together, try this connection moment: Make a list of family mistakes – and how people apologized or fixed the mistakes. For example, forgetting to bring something on vacation, burning or ruining a meal, accidentally letting a pet out, sibling arguments that later turned out to be silly…Sometimes family stories can be the best learning moments.