As parents we can feel a lot of pressure to do things ‘right’ and have our kids be ‘happy’ all the time. That’s just not possible, and there is brain science proving that mistakes are a powerful learning opportunity for adults as well as children. Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Faye Bryson, in their new book The Power of Showing Up, encourage 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.

Parents may think that we shouldn’t apologize to children, or feel uncomfortable being vulnerable and acknowledging our mistakes to them. When we have the courage to admit we are wrong, say we are sorry for the hurt we caused, and commit to trying to do better next time, it is a powerful learning opportunity.

Here are some ideas on ways to practice repair and fix mistakes in your family:

Use the R’s of Recovery. A process which allows for repair and moving forward together in a healthy way: 

  • Regather: Get calm
  • Recognize & Take Responsibility: Communicate with your child that you know you made a mistake
  • Reconcile: Offer a genuine apology. Own your part – no excuses.
  • Resolve: Commit to how you will fix the mistake or what will be different next time. Engage your child in brainstorming what would be helpful to fix the mistake.

Model making mistakes and trying to fix them. Embrace the mistakes you make and share your thinking with your child. “Oops I put too much salt in the recipe, I think I will start over and read the recipe more carefully.” “Oops, I said something unkind to my friend and now he is feeling sad. I am going to apologize and try to pause before I speak.”

Create a Wheel of Repair. Separated into sections like a pie, a Wheel of Repair a visual representation of a family’s options for repairing hurt or mistakes. Ideas: give a hug, share something, say “I’m sorry”, draw a picture or offer help. Children feel empowered when they are included, so create the choices as a family. Practice trying out the options ahead of time so that when the mistake happens, kids understand what to do. 

Family Meetings. Parents and children can use an agenda to support the problem-solving process. All the members of the family can work together to offer solutions, and choose the option with which they would like to move forward. Family meetings create a routine around connection and problem solving so that parents and children know how to deal with problems together.

Make an Agreement. Making an agreement is an option for repairing mistakes between parents and children, or between anyone! Gather information about what is happening regarding the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and choose a solution that works for everyone. This process can be a helpful tool for siblings as well. You can support them in their discussion but be sure to let them decide together what will work to solve the problem. Follow through on the new agreement and check back and see how it is working. You can always modify and adjust if necessary.