8 Steps For Practicing Correction & Forgiveness With Your Kids


I'm entering the phase where I annoy my kids more and more often. Even if you don't have kids, you WERE one, so you probably know what I'm talking about. Do you recall your parents bugging you? Can you remember testing the boundaries to see how much you could get away with before getting in trouble? Perhaps your parents caught onto your antics and busted you for being disobedient, rude, or belligerent at a regular clip. I bet they made you pretty mad.

Well, I am now that parent.

Between me and my husband we are constantly correcting our kids and teaching them that boundaries are important to us. We try to be just slightly more relentless than any particular wayward behavior or ill-temperament. As I said in yesterday's post, our goal isn't to shame our kids into making smart choices, but to teach them that wise decisions lead to good things and unwise decisions lead to bad things.

On our best days (those days where logic trumps emotion), the process we use is formulaic and reliable. On days where we move off  plan, well, we regret moving off  plan. So here's our approach in broad strokes. Customize and use what works for you.

1. Pick your time and place.

Through much trial and error, I've discovered an aisle in the middle of Target is not a good location for an attitude adjustment. The grocery store is no better and a car ride is categorically a bad idea (for me). If I want to make a point, I need to be sitting across from my child, looking in his/her eye. For us, this usually means "The Library" complete with the sawed-off shelves (a good reminder for my need for forgiveness!) where there's privacy and few distractions. I also try to avoid the dinner hour or the window right before bed.

2.  Ask what went wrong.

This is a tricky way to start the conversation because it's easy for a kid to play the blame game. "He started hitting me..." or "She was being mean..." or any other statement that directs attention away from THEIR behavior doesn't fly. To counteract this habit, ask the same question repeatedly, "What went wrong with YOUR behavior?" or "How did YOU have a problem today?"

When they answer the question, move to step three and...

3. Listen to the response.

With enough practice, eventually your kid's ability to articulate a problem will improve. Sometimes their response is shockingly insightful, so pay attention to their thoughts around their emotions. You'll learn valuable tips on how to interact with your child.

Always be quick to listen and slow to speak.

4. Question/Agree/Add

Ask questions until you both understand what happened. When they say something you agree with, let them KNOW you agree. Don't argue with their perception, but add to their point of view by sharing your own.

The exchange of perspectives is critical to your long-term relationship because it establishes a framework of mutual respect.

5.  Create A Practice Plan.

After you both acknowledge the problem,  reassure your child they'll have plenty of opportunities to practice a better response. Ask them to imagine when they will be most tempted to respond poorly and then discuss a strategy for handling those occasions.

This is when we decide how to avoid having the problem in the future. Questions like, "How can I help you calm down?" or "How would you want me to respond to you when you're struggling?" Much of the time our kids don't have any ideas, but sometimes they do, so it's good to ask the question.

6. Discuss the consequence.

Remember, our goal is for our kids to know this principle: wise decisions lead to good things and unwise decisions lead to bad things. The goal of the talk isn't about removing a consequence for their decision. The healthy parent/child relationship isn't a democracy or a negotiation, but it IS a relationship built on love and respect.

Talk about the appropriate consequence. This isn't inviting a "democratic" decision - you will make the call, but it's helpful for them to be part of your thinking process. You should expect a kid's suggested consequence likely to be too light or off-point. So make a decision how you're going to handle the resulting tension when you make  a different decision from what they suggest. Don't apologize for the consequence (they made the decision to behave as they did), but explaining the appropriateness of the consequence lets them know you're taking responsibility.

7.  Confess to the other parent.

Inevitably, one of us is missing when the wheels fall off of the attitude bus. Whether I'm out of town ("Leaning In"?!) or Billy's at the office late, someone always seems to miss the drama. When that happens, even if we have to make the connection on the phone or Facetime, we make the child explain what happened to the missing parent.

Their job is to tell the parent the facts about what happened, the explanation of what happened, and the consequence for their decision.

The prospect of these "debrief conversations" causes all manner of stress, and it's usually when most of the tears happen. However, owning the poor choice is tremendously helpful. When you say what you've done OUT LOUD to ANOTHER PERSON and SURVIVE, you start to realize the power of unconditional love.

The goal is we want our kids to be comfortable telling us anything. They will make bad choices; we all do. We don't want them to hide in shame, but to practice healing in a safe relationship.

The most important part of step seven is the response of the parent who's being informed. This is not a time to jump into the fray with another round of punishments. Parent # 2 needs to listen to the information, affirm the process, and encourage "wise choices" the next time around.

{ One note: if you think parent #2 is going to struggle with the child's news, it might be wise to discuss it with them in advance.  I needed a good few hours to get over the bad decision that ruined some furniture. Funny, I know.}

8. Forgive.

The most important part of the process is the letting-go piece. Your child's ability to forgive others is largely influenced by how much experience they have in being forgiven.

Consider the role forgiveness has played in your life - both positive and negative. Step 8 is huge. Even when I fail in the first seven steps, I know that forgiveness covers all.

Still working it out!