March 14, 2014 - Parenting

The most effective way to teach children is by how we respond when we make mistakes.

Superstorm Sandy

Regardless of whether it’s a little mistake like backing over the mailbox as my wife says,

“Watch out for the mailbox!”

And I respond,

“I see the mailbox!”

Or a big mistake like spending money on something I shouldn’t have, the response impacts our kids.

For example, when I actually did back over that heavy mailbox, I turned to Gwen and she laughed.

Gwen had a way of making me see the lighter side of things even when I didn’t want to.

Her response made me laugh too. It has become a tradition in our family whenever anyone is backing up a vehicle in potentially dangerous circumstances, someone will say, “Watch out for the mailbox!” The driver responds, “I see the mailbox!”

Of course, now the driver actually takes heed that there may be something in the way and uses caution as opposed to my cavalier response.

When it comes to the big things, our kids need us to admit our mistakes there too.

Everyone makes mistakes—only men and women of integrity admit it to those it affects the most.

When our kids are young, they learn from our mistakes as long as we give them permission to. We do that by opening up and coming clean.

That allows us to admit we made a mistake for which there may be consequences, a mistake for which we are sorry—and they learn.

It also helps them understand that learning is a lifelong process. The idea that, ‘Dad makes mistakes and is willing to admit it’ carries weight into their adulthood.

The opposite is true as well—if we bury our mistakes, our kids never learn from them. Our selfish desires prevent them from growing, forcing them to make the same mistakes in their own lives.

I love my kids. I don’t want them to go through life doing painful things I’ve done. If I can prevent that by admitting my errors, it’s worth it.

Contrary to society, admitting our shortcomings does not destroy our children’s faith in us. On the contrary—they grow closer to us and respect us more.

Our sons and daughters need to see us as leaders, and leaders don’t sweep mistakes under the rug—they learn from them and use them to help others.

The greatest military leaders in history understood that mistakes are an integral part of success, and fear of failure is crippling.

They would study not only successful military campaigns, but also those ending in disaster.

General George Patton said,

“I do not fear failure. I only fear the engine inside of me, which is pounding, saying, ‘Keep going. Someone has to be on top, why not you?’

After a devastating failure in my own life, my wife gave me a plaque that I had for many years. It said,

The success of a man is measured by what he does after he fails.

I determined that failure would not write the final chapter of my life, nor would it finish any other. In fact, it may only be a footnote so I can remember to tell my kids about it.