Little boy squatting looking a pigeonsHow to Turn a Mistake into a Lesson

When a child makes a “big” mistake most parents really want to make sure their child understands the gravity of the situation, and rightfully so.

Some parents begin to lecture, to make sure their child knows how bad it is.

Others hand down a huge punishment so she’ll never forget what she did.

Some parents feel their child’s behavior is a reflection on them, and make decisions about what to do from that place of embarrassment.

Still others are just plain angry, and remain so as a way to punish their child.

I’m not here to tell you how to handle situations with your child. You’re the parent and you know what’s best. I do want to point out that most children are so upset at being “caught” that they can’t really think.

Really thinking about what happened, what to do to make sure it never happens again, and how to fix it, are what will help ensure that it doesn’t happen again. But how can you achieve that using love, and calm firmness?

Think back to when you were little. Most of us were yelled at, and the yelling caused us to fear or resent our parents. It didn’t cause us to really think about the situation. We would just promise anything we thought our parents wanted to hear so we could get it over with. I didn’t want that situation to unfold with my kids.

Many parents have told me that, when they were little, what did make an impression on them was when their parents said they were disappointed.

I’m not advocating that you tell your child you’re disappointed in her.

I’m advocating that you change your method to include teaching words.

You’ll still make an impression, your child will still learn, but this way it’s done without any residual guilt.

To help a child really learn from mistakes, he/she needs to be allowed to feel the weight of the consequences of his/her choices and what it will take to fix things.

What if you said,

“I’m pretty upset about this. You need to sit here and really think about what happened. When we talk later I want you to tell me 3 things.

            • What you will do differently next time so this doesn’t happen again.

            •  How you plan to fix this.

•  And what you think your consequence should be?” (If the parent thinks   the situation calls for a consequence.)

“Oh and by the way, real thinking isn’t something that happens in five minutes. Real thinking can take a whole evening. Based on what you did, I’m guessing you’ll be in here all evening. I’ll check on you in a while to see what you have to tell me.”

This sends the message that you’re disappointed without needing to say it.

It tells the child that it’s her responsibility to figure out how to repair the damage she has caused.

It creates a consequence, she has to stay in her room all night, or until you think she has given it enough thought. This really can take the place of timeout or being grounded.

It allows you to remain calm so you can hug and love your child as they figure it all out.

I think that accomplishes just about everything you’d want from your child so she understands the gravity of a situation, don’t you?

This really can take the place of timeout or being ground. However, with Timeout: A Few Changes Makes it Works you’ve got a slightly new version that really works!

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.


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