What is your first reaction when your children make a “childish” mistake? By “childish”, I mean something like spilling milk, dropping your phone in the toilet, throwing a golf ball through a window, or ripping the wallpaper off the wall. I’m not referring to malicious acts of the will like hitting a brother, lying to a parent, or refusing to obey. Let’s consider those kinds of things later. For now, let’s think about our response to childish mistakes that kids make. The kind of mistakes that kids make because they are kids.

I’ll admit it, if I’m not careful, my first reaction to these kinds of mistakes is anger. With four kids, there have been plenty of moments when something went wrong and I responded in a way was is understandable, but not helpful. So, how do you respond? Do you have a default way of responding? Most of us do. In these cases, my frustration can show and I can be quick to issue a random form of punishment. Truth be told, we often don’t take the time to think through our response, we just issue a punishment. While it’s certainly important for our kids to learn that there are consequences for their mistakes, I’ve found that I need to do a better job of seizing the moment to teach my kids more effectively in these moments.

So, here’s what I’ve tried to do. When one of my kids makes a mistake, I’ve found it helpful to let the first words out of my mouth be a question: “what did you learn?” It may still be necessary, depending on this situation, to give some kind of discipline. But, redemption, restoration, and wisdom are my higher goals no matter what. If I punish but do not teach, what good is my punishment? If all they see is my anger, what good have I done? None. In fact, I think I’ve actually made the situation worse, put distance between me and my child, and failed to help them grow. As such, I need to let every part of my response be focused on teaching. And as I teach, I want to teach them several kinds of lessons.

  1. Wisdom. I want them to see how life works and gain the wisdom to avoid similar problems in the future. Asking them “what did you learn?” is a first step to helping them get there.
  1. Responsibility. Our children must learn to own their mistake. If they confess what they’ve done instead of denying it, I should affirm them for that, and then help them find a way to repair the situation and find a solution. Letting them off the hook without giving them the responsibility to fix it is a false form of grace.
  1. Grace. No matter what, they have to know that I love them and this can’t just be with my words. In me they must find forgiveness and acceptance even when they fail. If I don’t give them this, then I will only push them away and that’s the worst thing I could do.

To teach those kinds of lessons, I need to understand my child. Not every child, or person for that matter, learns the same way. I need to avoid the temptation to just respond in my default “go to” kind of response. Instead, I need to think about which child I’m talking to and respond accordingly. Moreover, my focus must be on nurturing and teaching. Punishment may come, but when it does it must be designed to help them learn the lessons of wisdom, responsibility and grace. In the end, punishment alone only teaches behavior modification and this isn’t enough. What we’re after is the heart, the mind, and the whole person. God has entrusted them to us, let’s be faithful to teach them.