Yesterday morning, as we were getting ready for church, my three-year-old daughter climbed up onto the counter in the bathroom where I was putting on my lipstick. In her sweet little voice, she told me her lips were dry, and before I knew it, she had the container of coconut oil open, dipping her cute little finger in so she could put some on her lips. She’s an independent child, and wanted to get the job done. However, all I could think was that she was going to spill, and coconut oil on clothing can become a nasty stain! Instantly, as I yanked the container and lid out of her hands, my fears were confirmed. There were three big grease spots on her dress. I showed her the stains and told my daughter she may have ruined her dress! She needs to ask mommy for help! I wasn’t very nice. She burst into tears as I ripped the dress off her, ran to the laundry room, and grabbed the stain remover. I could still hear my daughter wailing from the bathroom. In the end, the stain came out of the dress, and all was well.
Or was it? My sweet girl is only 3 years old, and really just wanted to copy mama and put something on her lips. She was learning about life. Then I taught her a lesson she really didn’t need to know: that the dress was more important than she was. Ugh. I’m sure I could have handled it better. For example, I could have first helped her put some coconut oil on her lips, then gently ask her to give me the container, and when the stain appeared, we could have talked about being careful with the oil. I could have taken her to the laundry room with me and had her help with the stain removal. All of this could have been done with loving actions and kind tones. Then she would know she was safe, cared for, and loved. Oops.
How many of us jump into a tirade when our children make mistakes? Big or little mistakes? We want our children to behave well and become wonderful, happy, contributing members of society. How we handle ourselves when they make mistakes is key to helping our children develop into responsible adults. Children need to know that even through their mistakes and bad choices, your love and care is consistent. This does not mean that we check out and let them do whatever they want. That’s not love. Instead, as Stephen Covey taught, we “seek to understand”, and use mistake situations as opportunities to teach with love.
These two principles will help us in our journey to love our children through their mistakes:
When my older children were toddlers, I expected them to know how to make their beds, keep their rooms clean, and be nice. I got upset when they didn’t do these things, but then I realized I hadn’t actually taught them! Children don’t come with an innate knowledge of what this earth life is about and how to do everything. Teach them, not just household chores, but more importantly, the principles you and your family espouse. Take every opportunity to have conversation and teaching moments.
This step is crucial to their growth. Let them know you love them and will allow them the growth process as they trip and fall and get up again. Do not hold grudges or bring up past mistakes with your children. Allow them the space to make good, new decisions.
When a child is born, the seed of a great tree is planted. With every bit of love, teaching, forgiving, and nurturing, the tree grows. When leaves are plucked off, branches are broken, or bark is damaged through our negative behavior towards our children, the tree has more and more difficulty growing into its strength, greatness, and beauty. Be aware of who your children really are! Teach and forgive them with love and they will be happy, strong and kind, a beautiful tree with great roots to guide them on their journey of life.