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Lessons Learned and Teachable Moments

August 21, 2019 - 3 minute read

Mother and daughter hiking

Think about how you learned the greatest lessons in your life. If you are like me, you learned them primarily from making mistakes. Those experiences share a common thread: someone warned me about the possible consequences of taking a particular action, but like many of us, I turned a deaf ear, took the action, and dealt with the consequences. Getting advice or being a front row observer of someone else’s mistakes was not enough to stop me from wanting to test the waters myself. Looking back, I can appreciate the role that making mistakes played in becoming the woman I am now.

Yet, when kids make mistakes we tend to freak out. We don't want them to make their own mistakes--not our kids! But it is the journey of every child to mess up. It is inevitable. When they do mess up we have options. We can take advantage of the learning opportunity, deny what happened; blame someone else other than the child; rush to fix the child through punishment or unsolicited advice; or demand that someone else fix the child or the situation for us.

It never helps to hear these words: I told you so. That goes for parents and educators as well as children. Shaming never works. It just communicates judgment.

Here is a list of parenting mistakes I’ve made with my own children:

  • Allowed them to make excuses for their choices/actions
  • Allowed them to point the finger at someone else
  • Made them feel guilty and ashamed for their actions
  • Ignored or denied what happened or their part in it
  • Punished them with extreme, irrelevant threats and actions
  • Compared them to other kids (“Your sibling would never do something like this!”)

Many of us who come from traditional households were raised with a parenting style that was based on error counting. Any misstep was framed as a negative reflection on the family. As a child, I remember being punished and publicly embarrassed at school when I wasn’t behaving as expected. I remember lying to cover up my mistakes. As a parent, I remember being extremely annoyed when my kids made mistakes. I could easily blow their mistakes out of proportion. Perhaps the pressure of saving face in front of my family and community, coupled with my own experience as a child, dictated my reaction to my kids’ mistakes. I ended up missing so many opportunities to coach and guide my children when the opportunity arose. As an assistant principal who gets to deal with a lot of the behavior issues I continue to grow and learn in this area.

So, what does work? I’m still trying to figure this out. What I know is that every child, every person, is unique. It takes a variety of tools and strategies to guide them toward right action. Here are some effective strategies I’ve tried:

  • Help the child discover their part in what happened
  • Work together to identify appropriate amends (corrective action after the apology)
  • Discuss pre-emptive actions the child can take to diffuse the situation should the circumstances arise again
  • Guide the child to say in their own words what the take-away lesson is
  • Be the role model by handling mistakes in a good way (admit, reflect, plan)

Next time you, your kid, or someone you know makes a mistake remember: “Life is a journey, and we make mistakes, and it's how we learn from those mistakes and rebound from those mistakes that sets us on the path that we're meant to be on.” –Jay Ellis

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, at 17 Gabriela Rubio migrated to the United States with her mother and two brothers. Through hard work, persistence, self-discovery, the inspiration of a courageous single-parent, and the power of a community coming together to support its youth, she graduated from a local public high school with an academic scholarship. She matriculated to Sonoma State University, obtained her teaching credential, and began her career as a teaching assistant in the English-language learners program. Credential in hand, she was hired as a bilingual elementary school teacher. Earning an MAEd in Leadership with an administrative credential, she currently is an assistant principal at a dual-immersion elementary school in Napa, California.

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