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Responding To Our Children's Mistakes

  • Dr. Greg Smalley The Smalley Relationship Center
  • Published Dec 02, 2004
Responding To Our Children's Mistakes

Several months ago, I had my youngest daughter, Maddy, sitting on my lap while we watched Barney for the sixty-seventh time in a row. Somehow, I had lost interest in what Baby Bop was singing about and fell sound asleep. I'm not sure how long I was out but it was long enough for Maddy to color several pages of her Barney coloring book on my lap. Suddenly, I had that sinking feeling that something was wrong. It took me several seconds to regain consciousness and deduce that Maddy had colored all over my white shirt. I looked like someone from the sixties who had been attacked by the tie-dyed monster.

"Maddy!" I shouted in protest, "look at what you've done!"

Maddy looked me over, smiled and stated confidently "I made you Barney."

Rolling my eyes, I quickly forgave Maddy for her artistic liberties and we continued playing. Over the next few hours, Maddy would occasionally look in my direction and say, "Barney." I would abruptly explain that we needed a break from watching Barney. Finally, I walked past a mirror and realized why Maddy was calling me Barney. While I was sleeping she had taken a purple marker and had colored on my face. Sadly, my worst nightmare had come true. I had become Barney!

As parents, we could fill up books about the crazy things that our children do. Very few hours, if not minutes, go by without our kids doing something that we don't like. "Stop that ... Put that down ... Don't touch that ... I said no ... I said yes ... I said maybe ... Wait 'til your mother gets home ... Would Jesus hit your brother with that?" Sometimes I just get tired of my own voice protesting my daughter's behavior.

I know that my girls don't have a problem remembering the things they did that got them reprimanded. Maddy still talks about the day that she turned Daddy into Barney. My oldest daughter, Taylor, just reminded me about the time that she pulled Mom's skirt up in the crowded bank line. Humorous as these stories are, they represent a sad truth. As humans, many of us are prone to notice and remember when we make mistakes more so than when we do something positive.

In the same way, as parents, it's easy to get trapped into focusing on our child's mistakes. Instead of getting good reports, many kids across the country are faced with the tradition of listening to their errors recounted when dad comes home from work. Certainly we mean well. After all, it's our job to train our children to understand the difference between right and wrong. I realize that in my haste to teach my girls responsibility, manners, how to share, and a host of other things, I sometimes err on the side of focusing on their faults.

The problem is that whenever we focus on negative things or have negative beliefs about someone, we will find evidence to support our view. This is called confirmation bias. In other words, we try to confirm what we believe about someone (positive or negative). If we are constantly focused on our child's poor behavior, we will start to view him or her through a negative lens. We will begin to expect that kind of behavior. Sadly, when this happens people tend to live up to or down to our expectations.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to methodically notice what they do right on a daily basis. Marital researchers have discovered that when distressed couples began recording what the other mate did that was positive, the couple reports a substantial increase in their marital satisfaction. In the same way, make it a point to mentally record what your child does that is positive. I encourage you to share that with them before they go to bed. Imagine the positive effect on your children when the last word they hear that day is what they did right. Essentially, it's the same message that Paul encouraged the early Christians to do: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." (Phil. 4:8).

© Copyright 2004 Smalley Relationship Center.