No task that parents do is more difficult than correcting a child and simultaneously communicating to the child you still love them. The correction process is difficult because children work hard meeting selfish needs. Children have not had enough life experiences to recognize that when parents restrict or correct that they are trying to protect or help them. No one likes to be told no. Children are no exception.
Children make mistakes and must be corrected. Children make unwise choices and must be corrected. Correcting children is part of what a parent does. This is a given. Parents cannot and should not avoid this responsibility even it is difficult and may lead to consequences that the child does not like or feels are unfair. The following is a few suggestions for parents that some may find helpful when correction is necessary.
1. View correcting your child as helping or guiding your child. Correcting is not punishing. Parents are not an arm of the law. They do not have to act as enforcers. The role they play is more like the role a coach, teacher, and counselor all rolled into one.
2. Correcting a child is not something you normally need to do immediately. Take your time. It is more important to preserve your relationship with your child than to get immediate results. The parenting process is normally an eighteen year project. Example: "Looks like you made some unwise choices today. I'd hate to be in your shoes. But don't worry, your Mom/Dad and I will discuss how best to help you learn from this. We will let you know in the morning what we decided to do."
3. There are two messages that a child hears when parents provide correction. Parents need to consider how they will deliver both messages. One message is the Content Message. It is the message parents must send to the child that says, "You broke the rules and now must suffer the consequences." A child, who is immature by definition, will normally perceive the Content Message as negative. The other message sent to a child when parents correct a child is a Relationship Message. This message needs to be positive. It is important to let your child know they cannot stop you from loving them. Example: "I'm sad you chose to hit your sister. Now I have to do some things to protect her that you may not like. I’m sorry.” Your relationship with your child is more important than “making” your child do the right thing.
4. Teach, teach, and teach. This does not mean that you lecture your child. Lecturing is never listened to. Instead teach by showing your child what to do. If your child is crying to get their way, teach him/her how to ask for what they want. Say something like, “Use your words John. I will do my best to listen. Crying doesn’t let me know what you want.”
5. Children are not adults. If children came to us mature they would not respond as they do. Can you imagine your child responding as follows? "Dad/Mom, I have thought over what you said to me and see the wisdom in your decision to send me to my room. I now realize the error of my ways. Thank you so much for caring enough about me to enforce the rules." Children do not respond like this in the real world. Don’t expect it.
6. Enjoy the process of correcting. Do not let yourself fall into the trap of self talk that goes something like this. “Why do the kids have to behave this way? Will they ever learn? Instead use self talk that goes something like this. “Raising kids is sure fun. They make so many unwise choices. I’m glad that I have the privileges and responsibilities of helping them grow.”
7. Seek our others who can help your kids too. Seek out others who think like you do and who will not be continually Monday Morning quarterbacking you. It is always more fun to share experiences and stories then to bottle them up inside. It helps you realize you are not alone.
8. When your child makes a mistake it is not the end of the world. Think of your child as an unfinished book or video. You are only in the beginning chapters of the book.
Parents are not always as wise as they would like to be when correcting their children. Don't worry, kids will understand and even help you if they know you care about them. How parents correct kids is important, but not as important as the relationship between the parent and the child that develops over the years. Doing the best you know how at this time in your life is all anyone should expect of them.