Children and Wrong-doing
Sometimes children do wrong. It will happen. How you deal with it can go along way to either improving the situation, or worsening it.
1. Reward openness and honesty.
Wrongdoing is relatively rare. You can make it even rarer by recognising that rightnesses are occurring all the time. Create an environment in which your child always feels safe and encouraged to talk to you and with you about anything and this communication level will support them and you in the times when they would rather not tell you something. Then, if they have divulged something to you, make sure that you reward their honesty and that they know they are being rewarded for being honest. Honesty will become associated with relief and comforts and will become that bit easier.
2. Forgive easily.
It’s sometimes easier to say ‘don’t hold a grudge’ than it proves to be to do when something happens which has genuinely hurt or disturbed you. But if you don’t want such things happening repeatedly, and you want your child to grow from the experience rather than shrink and withdraw, the thing to do is forgive. This doesn’t just mean putting aside a particular instance of wrongdoing: over time, it means creating a sense in the child that they are more deeply loved for who they are than for what they may have done. This doesn’t mean that the wrong act, whatever it was, is right; you should always take steps to educate a child in rightness and wrongness and help them to see where the line is drawn. But you are forgiving them, the person, and this enabling them to move on. Not forgiving means forver pinning the child to the act -which isn’t helpful in the short or long term.
3. Don't dwell on the past.
Part of forgiving means being able to take your attention of past mishaps or incidents. If you are still aggrieved in some way by something your child did in the past, it probably indicates either that you haven’t gotten to the bottom of it to your own satisfaction or that you haven’t quite ‘uncoupled’ the action or incident from the person who is your child. Understanding what happened and why it happened will help you to separate out the child from the event and aid you in forgiving them as a person and moving on.
4. Avoid using guilt or shame.
Forgiving and not dwelling on the past can be undermined if you use guilt or shame as a means of bringing about compliance in some way in children. Phrases like ‘You’re always doing that!’ or ‘You don’t seem to be able to stop yourself misbehaving!’ are not helpful. Instead of helping a child to see how what they have done is not some kind of absolute reflection of who they are, this kind of approach pushes them into defining themselves as wrong-doers somehow. Correct the action without inferring that the person is doomed to repeat it. The best way to do this over the long term is through validating all that is right and good about the child whenever you can, from rewarding rightness in academic work to simple remarks like ‘Well spotted!’ or ‘You’re clever!’ whenever these are appropriate. A child will gain in confidence and grow in strength so that, whenever they do something wrong, they have some kind of context to see it for what it is and not let it define them.
5. Set positive, do-able targets.
If a child is in serious trouble through something that has occurred and has to climb back out and into your good books again, the best approach is not to make the task so overwhelming that they feel they have lost before they start. Children are usually already overwhelmed simply by recognising that they have done something ‘bad’; piling on the consequences just collapses them even more. If they need to make amends, you will need to guide them through it, step by step, so that each step is clearly defined and do-able. As they complete each task you have set, recognise it in some positive way and encourage them to go on. Gradually they will recover a sense of dignity and self-worth. You will see this when they cease to be preoccupied with what they have done and engage in genuine communication with you.
Recovery from wrongdoing is part of growing up -don’t make it any harder than it has to be. Children will mature as decent, honest people if they are guided in this way.