How Children Learn From Their Mistakes: Part 3

Shyju Mathew

"Experience the Word of God, in the power of the Spirit."

October 29, 2015

By Sarah Evans When something is important enough, it is worth repeating. The more times we read a particular viewpoint, especially when it is a new concept to us, the more we are able to digest and understand it’s relevance to our own lives. After all even God is in the habit of repeating the same thing over and over, when wanting to get a particular point across in His word. And so, what is this important thing that needs to be repeated? Our focus when giving our children an ‘unnatural’ consequence (**) should NOT be:
  • To humiliate and/or embarrass them
  • To make them suffer for their mistake
  • To make them the target of our own pent-up frustration and disappointment
  • To assert an unhealthy (uncontrollable) sense of power and dominance
Instead our focus should always be:
  • To help our children one day benefit from natural consequences, as a way to learn from past mistakes
  • To teach them how to grow up into God-fearing, and responsible adults
Let us then keep our true motivation in check daily, when giving our children ‘unnatural’ consequences. Our motivation should flow out of a place of unconditional love and acceptance. If our motivation is based on anything less, we will discover that we are in fact committing a sin against our children in the sight of God. It does sound like an impossible task, but this is exactly the reason why we cannot be Godly parents to our children unless we lean on God completely for ourselves. It is only in our understanding of His own unconditional love and acceptance for us, through Christ, that we can demonstrate this same love to our children. We cannot give something that we do not first ourselves possess. Here are a few more helpful pointers when thinking about the use of ‘unnatural’ consequences: MAKE IT RELEVANT When giving an ‘unnatural’ consequence we need to try to make it as relevant as possible. This means that the consequence needs to have some relation to the situation at hand. If we are to help our children learn over time to make the connection between their mistakes and the subsequent outcome (natural consequences), this is very important. For example, if my son knowingly breaks his sister’s toy out of frustration, his consequence should be related to either replacing the toy with his own money, which could mean that he do an extra chore around the house to earn the money to pay for the new toy, or if the toy is too expensive to replace, he should think of a way that he can make things right with his sister though an act of restitution. MAKE IT COUNT If we want the consequence to be an effective tool to teach and guide, we need to ensure that we take the time to talk calmly with our children. If we administer an ‘unnatural’ consequence without explaining it to them, we give them a consequence in vain. One of the main reasons for giving a consequence should be to provide some time for our children to step back and think (and even for us too!). In order for them to do this, they will need our guidance and direction. They will not know how to do this on their own.
So many times during my work day, I have seen teachers give a particular student a time-out or they have been kept in at recess as a consequence for their behaviour. Often afterwards, when I have privately asked the student “why did the teacher give you a time-out, or why did the teacher keep you in at recess?” the student will often reply “I don’t know”. This is a sad reality because the teacher thinks that they have helped the student by giving this student a consequence, but in actual fact it was all done in vain because the student did not understand nor learn from the experience.
Our children need to understand the reason for the consequence given, and they need to know what we expect them to do next time. We also have to tell our children that even though we expect them to work towards changing a particular behaviour; we also know that they are probably going to let us down again because they are children. They are not adults yet! It takes time for them to learn from their mistakes. We need to tell our children that the most we can hope for is that they will try harder, and if they need help to do so that they can count on us for help and support. It is important therefore that we have a conversation with our children before, during and after a consequence has been given. We need to ask God to give us His wisdom, as we navigate the complex maze that is parenting. In Him, and through Him anything is possible.

‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.’ 1 Peter 4:8

** (‘Unnatural consequence’: As we prepare our children to learn from their mistakes through natural consequences, we must realise that sometimes we will need to give our children an ‘unnatural’ consequence. In this way, we can provide a consequence that is more immediate and so more effective in teaching our children right from wrong, until they are mature enough to do so through the process of natural consequence.)

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