Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

Posted by on February 23, 2023

By Patricia Tuff

Making mistakes feels awful. The bigger the mistake, the harder the feelings. As a parent, I often need to remind myself that making mistakes is an important part of learning. In fact, the bigger the blunder, the more opportunities for growth. We can get thrown off by skewed perceptions of perfection; it can be easy to forget that mistakes support growth and compassion, help us to move through fear, and can reboot our motivations. 

However, although there are positive outcomes to mistake-making, don’t be fooled- fostering this type of independent learning is not easy. Witnessing our kids and teens flounder can be excruciating. How do we know when to intervene and when to hold back? How do we have conversations with our kids about challenging subjects and big mistakes? How do we foster accountability without focusing on shame and fear? Here are a few approaches that I’ve found successful.

First things first: validate, validate, and validate some more. Any emotions that arise for you or your teen are “normal” and have a purpose. No matter what you and your child are feeling, it is valid. Validate it. If they haven’t shared, check in with how they’re feeling. 

Second, take a moment to breathe and process before reacting. This isn’t easy; I struggle with this too. Our initial emotional responses are rarely a reflection of our proudest or best selves. The more we practice taking a breath or stepping back, the safer our teens will feel to share their world. Let them know you are a safe person to come to when they are in the thick of it and that they don’t have to go through it alone. Even if they don’t open up this time, they will remember that you opened the door for their big feelings down the road. 

Third, separate your teen from the “problem” or “behaviour”. When we externalize the issue, we gain perspective on it rather than personalize it and carry it with us. You made a mistake; you are not the mistake. They are likely feeling guilty, or ashamed, or overwhelmed, or (insert hard feeling here). It’s not always helpful to pile on. There will be a time and place to share your feelings a little later.

Lastly, encourage critical thinking and support them in exploring how they will navigate the situation independently. This is where I always want to jump in to save the day. Sometimes the solution seems so simple. Let them figure it out. Or not. Let them learn how to do it next time.

Be gentle with yourselves and be gentle with your teens. We’re all messing up together.

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