Children make mistakes, and we all make mistakes. The difference is that when our children make mistakes, they’re subject to discipline by parents, teachers or carers. When grown-ups make a mistake, we often can get away with it (I mean if it’s not too serious or against the law).
When we discipline our children, parents have different styles: yelling, screaming, naughty-cornering, and the worst, smacking or hitting children!
I know it sounds awful, but I’ve done all of the above except for smacking/hitting my daughter (hell no)! Every time the storm was gone, I’d feel terrible and full of guilt for my behaviours.
I asked myself:
- Why did I treat my most-loved person in the world like that?
- How could I be the loving, understanding and trustworthy mum that my daughter can lean on and needed me to be?
- How could I turn my child’s “mistakes” into learning opportunities without screaming and yelling?
I started to research the answers to these questions, and I discovered this book, “ No-Drama Discipline” by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.
I found the answers I was looking for. I applied the techniques I’ve learned from this book into our lives and turned my daughter’s “mistakes” into learning opportunities for both of us.
Here are two examples:
Example 1: My phone was disabled!
I use the iPhone. Sometimes, I allow my daughter to play music on my phone because we have an Apple Music subscription. One day, while I was trying to get breakfast ready, I heard my daughter saying: mum, I can’t play music.
I immediately looked at my screen, and it said, ” your phone was disabled”! I enter the password. The texts appeared again, “I entered the incorrect password”! I asked my daughter what happened, she sheepishly replied, “I might have changed the password”.
What? How? When did she learn to change the password? I haven’t taught her to do that.
I asked her, what’s the new password? She said she didn’t remember!
At that point, I was fuming. A dark cloud immediately covered my face. My first instinct was to yell, “how could you…”?
Then, I looked at my daughter’s watery eyes. I knew she knew she had done something seriously wrong and not sure what to expect from me. I could tell she was scared.
At that moment, I took a deep breath and remembered what I learned from the book “No-Drama Discipline”: my daughter was just being curious and wanted to find out how things work, and she didn’t handle it properly.
Why would I punish her curiosity that I always try to nourish? Isn’t this the best opportunity to teach her the right way of handling things and encourage her to find out the answers to her questions?
In “No-Drama Discipline“, the authors talked about “connect first and then redirect”.
Connection means to meet where your child was at that moment and be compassionate. When our children are upset or knowing that they’ve made mistakes, their emotion is running high. They haven’t yet developed the ability to cope with such stress. It’s no use to say, “you shouldn’t do this, you should do that”, etc. Instead, the authors recommended simple but effective techniques such as:
- If you’re caught in that moment and angry, you don’t have to say a word. Sit down with your child and give your child a hug.
- If you want to say something, stick with those empathic words such as: “I know how you feel, or that’s not fair, etc.”.
- Don’t give your speech or preach your child. It’ll only push your child away from you.
Redirection means after both you and your child has calmed down, you can then talk to your child and guide her/him in the right direction.
In most cases, you’ll find that when everyone is calm, your child will be willing to listen to you, your tone will be more gentle, and the communication will be more effective. By redirecting, you’re not only encouraging your child’s good behaviours but also modelling to your child the right way to handle a heated situation.
So, what did I do to turn my daughter’s “mistake” into a learning opportunity?
1st – I keeled down to my daughter’s eye level and held her hands. I said: sweetheart, I know you didn’t mean to lock mummy’s phone. You just want to know how things work, right. She nodded. I said: ok, mummy wants to learn how to unlock the phone too. When you come home from school this afternoon, let’s find out how to do that together, ok. My daughter’s face was lit up already by that moment. “ok, mummy,” was what she replied.
2nd – After I dropped my daughter at school, I Google how to unlock iPhone myself because I’ve never done that before. It turned out I’d lose all the data and pictures on my phone as I had to reset it entirely. It wasn’t a big deal for me because I’ve had everything automatically backed up to iCloud. The lesson for me? All ways back up my data!
3rd – When my daughter came home in the afternoon, I sat down with her in front of Google. I asked her to type “how to unlock iPhone” into the search bar. We found a video. We followed the steps of the tutorial and unlocked my phone! I then asked my daughter to reset my password for me, the same way she did that morning but wrote down the code this time. She proudly reset the code like a pro and said to me, “ sorry, mummy, I won’t change your password again”. I told her, “you can change, but it’d be great if you could ask me first and don’t forget to write down the code”.
Can you imagine how pleased I was? In this process, I didn’t scream or yell or asked my daughter to apologise. I didn’t jump to conclusions. I just showed my compassion thinking from my daughter’s point of view. In other words, I’ve turned my daughter’s “mistake” into a learning opportunity.
Example 2: I want to go to school NOW!
This story has just happened this morning. My daughter was busy drawing something while I was washing the dishes. Usually, this is the time when we get ready to learn Chinese. I’m ok with spontaneous learning whenever my daughter wants to do something else rather than learning Chinese.
I asked what was the drawing for. My daughter said it’s was for her teacher’s birthday. I thought how nice that she was caring enough to give her teacher a birthday gift. While I was still in the proud moment, my daughter said, “mum, I need to go to school NOW”! I want to give this give to my teacher.
It was only 7:30 am! Naturally, I said it’s too early, and then I turned back to washing dishes. “ I want to go to school NOW, mum, NOW “! Jokingly I replied, “ok, you start to walk. I’ll meet you there”. I kept washing my dishes.
Five minutes later, after I finished the dishes, I didn’t hear any sound. Searched everywhere in the house, front and back yard, there was no sight of my daughter. I panicked and realised my daughter might have taken my words literally and walked to the school by herself!
That’s impossible as she’s only a 6-year-old and has never left our house by herself!
I immediately jumped in my car and drove out without locking our front door or windows. I followed the road to school. After a few blocks, there she was on her bike with a big school back on her back, riding uphill slowly.
She didn’t see me yet. I parked my car on the roadside behind her. My horror was replaced by amusement because
- her bike had a flat back tyre because it hasn’t been used for a while.
- Her school bag was bigger than her bike, with extra stuff packed for her library and swimming day.
I thought, well, at least she put her helmet on. How am I going to turn this “mistake” into a learning opportunity?
She kept riding, and I kept following her because I wanted to see how she cross the road by herself without me. Luckily, we were on the community road with not much traffic. So I was able to stop when needed.
Eventually, she saw me because she kept looking back as well. Then she kept going, stopped and going again. I didn’t get out of the car or say a word. I just followed her, making sure she’s safe.
About halfway to school (1km), she finally stopped. I stopped on the other opposite side of the road, too, and asked: are you tired, baby? Do you want to have a free ride?
She said: yes. (I guess she was exhausted after 1km riding with a heavy bag).
Still, I didn’t say a word or scream at her, although my instinct was to show her how upset I was. I knew better. I applied the “connect-first” technique, put my hands on her shoulders and hugged her.
After a minute or so, she said, “ I’m sorry, mummy, I shouldn’t have done that. I won’t do that again”!
I asked her “what she apologised for” because I wanted to make sure she understands the whys. She replied, “it’s not safe for me to leave home by myself. I might not see mummy and daddy again (something to do with a child got taken away by a bad guy, a story we watched in the news. It’s the reality, unfortunately).
Wow, for a 6-year-old, she knows what she did was wrong. She apologised. What else could I ask for?
While in the car to school, I praised her for following the safety rules when riding her bike and crossing the road.
I was pleased. I never thought I’d see my 6-year-old venturing out by herself at this age. It wasn’t my choice, but I seized the moment and turned a “mistake” into a learning opportunity.
I also learned a lesson that I need to watch what I say.
Here is the thing. We’ll never be prepared for our children’s “mistakes or mischiefs”. Those moments often present to us when least expected. But, we CAN control and choose how we react to our children’s “mistakes”. It’s all right to say, “ I want my children to learn independence. I want to encourage my child to be curious. I want my children to be this and that…”.
My friend, action speaks louder than words. By acting the way you want your child to be, you’re teaching your child lessons. Children are smart. They watch our every move. As parents, we’re holding a massive power in turning our children’s mistakes into learning opportunities. Use it while our children are still young. If you want to know how to harness this power, I highly recommend this book, “No-Drama Discipline”. I hope you find your answers like I did.
If you do, share with me by leaving your comments below, or head to the Panda Mama Facebook community. Happy parenting.