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Give Children the Freedom to Make Mistakes

"Life learning is so much more important—and so much more meaningful—than punishments and “taught” lessons"

I don’t understand why parents feel the need to punish children for making mistakes. Think about it; when was the last time you lost ten dollars, broke a glass, or lost your keys? Did anyone ground you, spank you, or withhold activities from you for doing it? Of course not. The consequence was your own embarrassment, inconvenience, or loss of money or property.

But when children make a mistake, we are so much harder on them! We expect them to not only be perfect, but to pay a price in addition to the mistake. We belittle them, ask them why they did it, or how could they have done it, and then expect them to pay for it with a punishment. It really is the most ludicrous thing, when you think about it.

“Well, how will they learn from the mistake?” some parents might ask. How do you learn from yours? Think about the consequences:

  • The child breaks a toy—no more toy. You don’t buy a new one. And if they break something of yours, a reasonable consequence might be for them to help put it back together or to buy a new one—not be grounded or otherwise punished.
  • The child loses $10 from Grandma—it’s gone. No more money. Isn’t that a bummer enough for a child?
  • He or she loses her temper and throws a tantrum. Maybe you take a quiet time-out together, or you try to solve the problem together, or you just call it a day and leave where you are at or go to bed. Whatever compassionate route you take, remember that you, too, lost your temper for stupid reasons. And hers probably aren’t even as stupid; she just doesn’t know another way to express her frustration yet. It’s your job to help teach her that.

Life learning is so much more important—and so much more meaningful—than punishments and “taught” lessons. If something is meaningful to your child, he or she will remember it. Hands-on teachers who help students learn by associating concepts with real life and encouraging them to make their own connections are right to do so, and as parents we have that opportunity every single day. Why not take it instead of enforcing ridiculous punishments for mistakes and inciting resentment rather than learning?

You’ll still lose your keys, of course; your child will, too. That’s life!