It seems at times that parents can become so exasperated with their child when the child has chosen a certain behavior that, from the outside, appears to be blatantly idiotic. Your child has performed a behavior that you never would have attempted in a million years, like hold a lit firecracker between your fingers and you just cannot understand what it is that this child was thinking. He wasn't thinking. Get it? He wasn't thinking. Ever hear stories of young people attempting the craziest thing you ever heard of and often suffering consequences of the action? One young person has bet that he could jump from the roof of his home. He did and broke his arm. One twelve year old took the family car out for a joyride late one night and crashed into a family car filled with people. One child chopped his sister's pigtail off with scissors; one threw a shoe out the car window, and one child put marbles down the garbage disposal with it on.
It seems incredible that these children would perform such actions, and so we ask: What were you thinking? Our frustration is obvious and that is easily passed on to the child, they can see it in our face, and hear it in our voice. It seems that we expect our children to be without mistakes and when they make them we show extreme displeasure, as if they were not supposed to event make mistakes at all. The fact is that at birth and up to two years of age or so, the child depends heavily on the right side of the brain to interpret the world. Gradually, the right brain gives way to the left side of the brain, but not for quite a while. Thus, as long as the child is a child, you can expect mistakes to occur. It is a learning process for the child. Remember that old phrase: Practice makes perfect?
As parent we must remember that the idea of parenting is an on going process, thus the phrase: No rest for the weary. Our job is to be available to guide the child through her path, encourage when she is discouraged, assist when needed and observe. Your child runs into the street after a ball that was thrown and is almost hit by a car. A child knocks all of the fresh fruit off the fruit tree and makes holes in the m with a stick. A boy fires his BB gun at a neighbor's chimney. The parents all ask: What were you thinking? How about we ask: What happens when you do that? Do you like the results? Could you have done anything else instead? How do you think I feel about what you did? What would I prefer that you do instead? All of these questions will allow for the child to problem-solve and perhaps allow the child to become increasingly aware of one's actions. Through problem-solving with you the child makes a verbal determination about what occurred, what the results were, and how he could do something different next time. For instance:
Parent: What happened when you rubbed crayon on the hot light bulb?
Child: Crayon melted all over the place,
Parent: Is that what you expected to happen?
Child: No, and it made a big mess.
Parent: What did you have to do then?
Child: I had to clean it up.
Parent: Was that fun?
Parent: Want to do it again?
If we can recognize that our child is an adult "in-the-making," and understand that learning is a process that improves with age, we can be more relaxed when our children make the inevitable mistake. The chance to make a mistake is the chance to recognize how to improve one's behavior. Our responsibility as parents is to be our child's mentor, the life coach, or guide. Mistakes are parent of life, how we handle them is up to us. Be a good teacher, look for these teaching moments and bring them up again later with the child. We can turn "What were you thinking" into "let's make sense of what you are doing" and your child benefits as much as you do.