Earnestine Woods and her organization Have a Heart for Children work on their annual spring break project on Friday March 9, 2018 at the Brewbaker Middle School in Montgomery, Ala. Mickey Welsh / Advertiser
Imagine this scenario: your child broke a neighbor’s window and then very convincingly lied about it, blaming his friend, and even making himself look like the victim. At first, you’re outraged for your poor, innocent son, but then you learn the truth! How are you feeling? Angry? Embarrassed? Betrayed? Maybe overwhelmed and possibly even afraid.
So, what do you do? The neighbor with the broken window is angry. Your family is going to have pay to have the window fixed. The friend’s parents are upset that their child was blamed, and this situation has now put a strain on their friendship.
You decide to take away all electronics for two weeks and tell him he can’t participate in any social activities for the rest of the month. Plus, you empty his piggy bank to help pay for the window repair.
How does this affect your son? Does he feel remorse? Maybe. Does he feel shame? Probably. Does he feel empowered to be courageous and tell the truth the next time he makes a big mistake? Probably not.
In the face of misbehavior, what do we want for our kids? We want them to know we are on their team and have their best interest at heart. We want them to feel remorse but also empowerment to make a better choice in the future.
So let’s rewind and try a different approach. In the moment that you discover what really happened, and all of those negative emotions rise up, making your cheeks burn and your head spin, instead of reacting, you grab a notebook and head to your room to think it through.
What has your child done that was wrong? He broke a window and then lied about it, blaming someone else for his mistake. List all the negative results of his actions.
Then ask yourself what you think his motives might have been? The window was an accident, but had he been more conscientious, it could have been avoided. Then when it broke, he became afraid and tried to shift the blame to someone else to protect himself.
Now think about how he could do things differently in the future. First, you want him to be more aware of his surroundings and more careful. But when mistakes happen, you want him to understand that he is not defined by his mistake, and there are steps he can take to right his wrongs.
Now that you’re calm, you can walk him through the process. Once he expresses remorse, you can tell him that you are willing to stand by him as he apologizes to the neighbor and to his friend. Then you can help him figure out a way to pay for the broken window. If you have to cover the cost at first, overtime, he can work to pay you back.
In the end, he learns he is safe even when he makes a mistake. You have equipped him with some new tools to make better choices, and you empowered him with skills to be brave when he does make a mistake.
Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman host POP Parenting, a one-hour weekly syndicated talk radio show. For more information, go to www.jenniandjody.com, visit the Jenni and Jody Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @JenniandJody.
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