Thursday February 2 2012 1257 pm
This post is a follow-up to last week’s post–though I didn’t originally intend it to be.
Last week, I wrote about my efforts to teach my kids responsibility and how I’d become impatient with them for forgetting things they really ought to remember: bringing their sneakers to school, remembering all the components of a science project. Our job as parents, in part, is to teach children how to become responsible human beings, and I wondered on the virtual page if I was expecting too much or not enough from my children at their ages along that road.
If we want to teach our kids responsibility, we need to point out to them the times in their lives when they could and should have taken responsibility. These episodes should begin small–child-sized–so that they can learn age-appropriately, before they’re hit with adult-sized responsibilities later in life.
How do you simultaneously teach your children to be responsible while also teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes?
Six-year-old “Emmie” has been struggling with the concept of making mistakes lately, and I’ve battled through a lot of headaches trying to work out the problem with her. To put it simply: Emmie doesn’t like to be wrong. And if she is wrong, nine times out of ten, she isn’t; you are. Or, more specifically, I am. (Sometimes the culprit is her father or her brother, or even a teacher, but mostly she blames me.) If she gets a homework problem wrong: it’s my fault. If she’s misunderstood a rule in a board game: everyone else is at fault for not letting her play her own version. If I catch her red-handed, lying about having brushed her teeth: that’s my fault. (Sorry, I can’t explain the reasoning there.)
I’ve been through this before with now ten-year-old “Jack,” so I know that to a certain degree, this unwillingness to be wrong is age-appropriate. In Jack’s case, he blamed inanimate objects for every misstep for years; e.g., that ball he threw that knocked a glass off the table? Never would have happened if the table hadn’t moved.
Fortunately, Jack moved past that stage. He still doesn’t like to be wrong. But who does?
The trouble with Emmie is that she doesn’t merely dislike being wrong. Many if not most incidences of correction erupt into full-blown temper-tantrums. A gentle pointing out of an error in math addition (and I assure you, I’ve learned to be gentle) often results in a half-hour of screaming, tears and accusations as I try in a futile exercise first to sympathize, then to reason with her.
Emmie’s anger and accusations when she makes mistakes are beyond anything we experienced with Jack, and we’re at something of a loss over how to handle them. We don’t criticize Emmie in creative areas, like the drawings and paintings she loves so much. And we praise her all the time for her efforts in school and at home when she does well. But there’s no way around the fact that 7 plus 8 does not equal 14. I’m not going to tell her that it does.
I tell both my kids something I never learned until I was an adult: that’s it’s okay to make mistakes. (And if you haven’t guessed it by now: yes, I still struggle with this.) If you make an effort, and you get something wrong, well, then you’ve learned something. You know more than you did before. You can use that knowledge for the next time. If your mistake harmed someone in some way, then your attitude about it counts for a lot. Say you’re sorry, and mean it.
But most important from a child’s perspective: no one is going to get mad at you for making a simple mistake. This is why I apologized to them last week for overreacting about the boots.
But I’m still not sure what to do about Emmie.
How do you tell a kid who often won’t accept being wrong that she’s made a mistake, and that it’s okay?