Mistaking Your Way to Success!

By Kimberly Gonsalves

Making mistakes is a given. Learning from our mistakes is optional. In Positive Discipline, we teach that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. Recovery from mistakes is a skill we parents can practice and teach our children as well.

We will make many mistakes with our children and we can model how to recover from mistakes how to fix them and how to make amends. This is information that will serve our children, since they will make a lot of mistakes, too.

The “4 Rs of Recovery”

Recognize—“Oops, I made a mistake.”

Responsibility—Take responsibility for your part in the mistake. “I shouted at you when I felt angry.”

Reconcile—“I apologize.”

Resolution —“Let’s work on a solution together.”

Adapted from Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, Ed. D. and Lynn Lott, M.A., M.F.T.

It can be hard to admit our mistakes. We aren’t proud when we lose patience and yell at our kids, for example. Problems often happen when two people behave badly at the same time.

Here are some “honest questions” parents can ask themselves when they have made a mistake: Do I have realistic expectations for my child’s age and stage of development? What do I tend to “invite” from my child— openness and cooperation or defensiveness and resistance? Is the problem a result of poor planning on my part? Lack of consistency on my part? Is it lack of skills on my child’s part? Have I taken time for training? How may I be contributing to the problem?


Be brief and specific, not defensive.

Don’t beat yourself up—it isn’t helpful.

The message is more important than the exact words.

Use words appropriate to the age of the child.

Talk about how you can work together to do something different and more effectively next time. What can your child do differently? What can you do differently? You might say something like, “Next time that happens I’m going to take a moment to cool off so I don’t yell.”

When I blow it (frequently!), I have a plan for repairing the mistake and the relationship. In doing so, I model making mistakes and fixing mistakes and I move toward meeting my child’s need for a sense of connection, contribution, capability and courage.

A recent mistake that I made involved my daughter’s bedtime routine. We’d had other children over for the evening while their parents went out to a party. My daughter is the youngest of the bunch and really needs to be in bed by 8:30. I had every intention of enforcing her bedtime. But…everyone was having fun and I started chatting with my friends when they came to pick up their kids. At 9:45, when I finally attempted to get my daughter to bed, it was met with whining, resistance and tears. I often make multiple mistakes at the same time (egads!), and so at first I tried to get her to “comply” with my directions: “Time to brush teeth! Time to put pajamas on!” I started to get frustrated with her when she began to whine, then realized I had helped create it by not sticking with the routine we have in place. I validated her feelings: “You’re really too tired to get ready for bed now, aren’t you?” A gush of tears and tragic agreement followed. I gave her more help than usual. Once she was in bed, I admitted I’d made a mistake by not calling a halt to play in order to get her to bed at a reasonable time. The next day we agreed that in the future when friends visit, we’ll remind ourselves that she feels best when she goes to bed by a certain time and we’ll commit to honoring that bedtime.

Most of us did not get the “memo” that “Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn” when we were children. Many of us would prefer not to make mistakes or instinctively try to hide them. Fortunately, it’s never too late to discard what no longer serves us and make room for something new. When we look for the learning in our mistakes, it opens up a whole new set of possibilities for us and for our children.

How do you treat mistakes in your life? How do you treat your children’s mistakes? Wouldn’t it be fun to give yourself permission to learn from your mistakes? What might you gain if you changed your perspective?

Kimberly Gonsalves is a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer and Parent Coach. www.parenting4thelongrun.com. Kimberly@parenting4thelongrun.com.