Everyone makes mistakes. However big or small, we have all been guilty of making a wrong decision or reacting to a situation in an incorrect manner. This is human nature. This is also true for our children; they make bad decisions and err on a regular basis. After all, they are learning the complicated social etiquette which changes for each and every scenario and eventuality. The concepts we have derived as a race over thousands of years is a convoluted web of split second judgment calls which we from time to time may get wrong. So let's admit it, we all make mistakes; it's how we deal with those mistakes that is more important.
I could list several mistakes I've made in the past week, none of which were largely damaging, but I knew that I could have reacted differently or chosen an alternative route. And that's what I am working on with my children at the moment, self-reflection. Understanding that there are always alternative ways to manage a situation is a skill that is very important to me, and something that will help my kids as they grow older and experience a wide variety of scenarios. I am the first to admit that teaching children how to reflect upon their actions is not an easy task.
Self-reflection requires a level head and a calm sensibility. I know for myself that if I try to reflect upon something immediately after it happens, my emotions control my reasoning and rationality. Therefore, the self-reflection needs to occur hours or days after the event. This is especially the case with my children. I wish I could write about all the proper ways in which you should educate your children on self-reflection. However, for me, I am constantly learning and seeking out new ways to help me navigate this crazy path of parenthood. I may not have all the right answers but I have at least learned how to ask the right questions.
For example, take a common scenario in many households, especially my own, a simple sibling dispute. I realize that the most important task involves dissipating the situation. In our household, this generally means separating the two (or three, or four!) parties and giving them a chance to cool down. For our younger ones I try to find them a simple distraction, while the older ones can count to ten and remove themselves from the situation. When tempers have simmered, I speak to each of the children involved on their own, away from the others. The important thing to note here, is that I decide when the discussion needs to occur, not the children. If I am busy with cooking dinner or another task, I do not stop that to deal with them. I feel it is important to not make their dispute the focus. I will spend the time to cool them down, but the talking comes later.
When I feel the time is right and that the children can discuss their actions with rationality instead of reaction, I sit them down and talk to them in as calm a voice as I can muster. I once was told that it is always important to get to the same level as them, at this point you are their equal, this is not a 'telling off', it's a discussion. We first discuss their version of the events – as hard as it may be, I try to let them talk without interupting or questioning their version. If there are lies, they will soon come out. Once their version is over, I ask them why they reacted in the way that they did. Then ask them if there was a different way that they could have dealt with the issue. If they are not willing to tell you all of this, then you could ask them to write it down, or draw pictures. Either way, humans are more able to reflect upon their actions once they feel that they have been heard, this is definitely the case for my children.
Take your time in getting all the information from each child, this might be a laborious task, and one that takes all evening to solve, especially if you have a Josephine in your family!, but it will be worth it. Once all the discussions have occured, it's time to get everyone together and discuss the event as a group. Ask each child how they could have reacted better, what they could have done to make the situation less upsetting. Generally, children are able to realize the ways that they could have changed their actions, and it's important not to feed them with the answers that you think are correct, it needs to come from them.
Once discussed and each child has had a chance to self-reflect, apologies are given and the issue is forgotten. This will not be the end of such disputes, but this process will give your children the chance to reflect on their actions and therefore become better at adjusting their actions and reactions in the future…or at least we hope!
I understand that there are many situations when this process will seem impossible, and there will be times when you don't have the patience to carry out a time-consuming procedure such as this. Like all parents, sometimes my emotions get the better of me but I have found it to be quite a successful way of teaching self-reflection and I have also noticed some scenarios that could have blown up, that have instead blown over.
Give it a try next time and see if it helps, it may not solve all of the disputes in your household, but it will make it clear to your children that looking back on a situation and thinking of alternative choices is a helpful and soothing practice.