Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

When you make mistakes with your child

“Before the plane takes off, the pilots have a flight plan…but during the course of the flight, wind, rain, turbulence, air traffic, human error, and other factors act on the plane…90% of the time the plane is not even on the prescribed flight path...During the flight, the pilots make constant adjustments to get back on track. The flight of that airplane is the perfect metaphor for family life…it doesn’t make any difference if we are off target or even if our family is a mess. The hope lies in the vision and in the plan and in the courage to keep coming back time and time again.”
–Stephen Covey

You may have noticed that you aren’t perfect. That sometimes you aren’t the parent or the person you want to be. Sometimes you blow it.  We all do. Welcome to humanity.

The bad news is that even if we’re committed to being the best parent, and best person, we can be, we will never be perfect. Life happens. We get off track. We get disconnected -- from our child, our partner, our own deepest guidance. We see the other person as making our life more difficult, rather than realizing that they're having a hard time. We feel hurt, we feel frustrated, we feel trapped. We lash out.

There’s no magic that keeps us on the right path. In fact, all relationships are a constant series of connections and disconnections, missteps and course corrections.

The good news, though, is that the journey of our life is woven from the individual steps we take every single day. The more quickly we notice those actions that are taking us in the wrong direction, the easier it is to course correct.

The even better news is that our sincere course corrections actually strengthen our relationships. Every time you re-connect with your child, you teach trust. Every time you choose love over anger, you role-model anger management. Every time you let go of hurt and reach for understanding, you model compassion. Every time you reach across a divide between you and a loved one, you testify to the boundlessness of your love, your commitment that "There ain't no river wide enough" to keep your love from getting through.

So don't be afraid to apologize to your child. You're teaching one of the most essential lessons: That we all make mistakes, and we can all recover, and repair our relationships.

Worried that your child will begin to mistrust your apologies? If you tune in BEFORE things get out of hand, you'll be able to course correct before things go bad. And every time you do that, you're re-wiring your brain, so you can manage yourself better. So you won't have so many opportunities to apologize!


1. Notice your own moods.

Like an airplane, you're actually equipped to notice when you get off-course. When you feel bad, that's your beeping red light on the dashboard. Your own upset feelings are a signal to you to change course. So when you veer into dangerous territory, just stop. Breathe deeply at least three times. Resist taking action until you calm yourself. Use a mantra that helps you, such as:

  • It's not an emergency.
  • He's acting like a child because he is a child.
  • If I were her, what would I need right now?

2. Remind yourself of your target destination.

For instance, at this moment you're tired and frustrated, but your end goals are to stay positively connected to your child and to model emotional regulation, because that helps your child to self-regulate -- right now, and for the rest of her life. What's your vision of your relationship with your child? Warm, close, your child seeking your guidance? Let all your steps take you towards that vision.

3. Reconnect with your child.

Sure, you want to teach him a lesson. But he can't learn while he's in fight, flight or freeze. He needs to reconnect with you to feel safe. Once you reconnect with compassion, and everyone's settled down, he'll be open to your guidance again.

Feeling too angry to reconnect? Give yourself whatever support you need to get back on track. You're the grown-up, so you have to be the one to step up and heal the disconnects. 

Don't worry about having been on the wrong path. Just start wherever you are, and course correct.  Love will get you home.


Photo: Thank you to  Crushed Red Pepper.
Used with permission.

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