Recently I was out to a Christmas lights festival with a younger friend and her four year old son. We all wanted snacks so we found a snack cafe that was serving hot cocoa and pastries. It was night and cold, so the cocoa looked good. She ordered one for her son and set it on the table.

Because I wasn’t thinking small child and reacting quickly enough, naturally when he picked up the full, adult sized cup of cocoa, he dropped in on the floor. We both rushed to clean him up and the spilled cocoa. I went and got another cup, poured out half and told the boy to always use two hands.

Unfortunately, the mother was highly embarrassed by what had happened and kept characterizing it as him throwing the cocoa down. Too bad.

Her sense of identity is too wrapped up in this child and his every little movement is perceived as a reflection on her. Not.

Here is a good article on dealing with childhood mistakes. (Even in public!!!!) V. Garcia

1. Consider whether the mistake was an accident

How often do you get frustrated when your child stains her nice shirt with jelly or drops her plate of dinner all over the kitchen floor? If you’re like me, you’ve lost your temper at some point.

But ask yourself whether the mistake was an accident—usually the answer is yes. Rarely do kids make mistakes on purpose. She may have spilled all the cereal out of the box and onto the counter, but she was likely just trying to be more independent and serve herself breakfast.

Reminding yourself that the mistake was an accident helps put the situation in perspective. We all make our own mistakes. How often have we gotten frustrated at our kids for spilling a cup of water, only to do the same thing ourselves?

2. Thank your child

When your child admits to making a mistake, thank him for telling you. Yup, before you even discipline, thank him for letting you know what happened.

Maybe he was rough housing in the living room and ended up pushing his brother too hard, or didn’t clean his toys like he said he did. Before telling him to be more careful or to not do that, thank him for telling you the truth.

He’ll feel like she can tell you anything, even when he’s in trouble or needs help. He should be able to tell you both good and bad parts of his day, including when he makes a mistake. Otherwise, he might develop a fear of failure, or that his bad choices define who he is.

In fact, thank him when he…

He needs to know that being honest with his parents is more important than hiding things and getting into more trouble.

3. Embrace mistakes as learning moments

Common childhood mistakes make for awesome teachers. When your child makes mistakes, don’t make her feel ashamed for doing so. Making poor decisions can be healthy and helpful—they help her learn what to do and not do in the future. Mistakes are an inevitable part of life that we can make the most of.

Rather than reprimand her, help her sort through her emotions and allow her to learn from her mistakes. She’ll know you have faith in her ability to try, fail, and eventually learn and succeed.

Making mistakes helps her develop the coping mechanisms for managing frustration, anxiety, and guilt. She’ll build resilience and develop a growth mindset and the emotional skills to decide how to make the situation better.

Read more about how to help your child embrace mistakes.

4. Prevent common mistakes

Though mistakes are inevitable, you can also prevent many of them from happening in the first place. Child-proof your home, or set valuables out of reach. Pull the kids apart when they’re starting to play too rough, and guide them toward more appropriate activities.

In my case, I could’ve moved the cups of water away from the dining table when my kids were goofing around, or communicated clearly when I told them to stop. Kids can make mistakes because we didn’t take the precautions to avoid them.


Mistakes are inevitable, there’s no doubt about that. And how you respond is just as important as addressing your child’s mistake in the first place.

To start, see if the mistake was an accident or not. Often the impulse isn’t to be mischievous but a simple mishap. Thank her for admitting her mistakes, especially when she could’ve withheld it from you out of fear of getting into trouble.


Years ago, when I was working for the big, bad insurance company, I realized that I had made a mistake on one of my files. It was bad but not necessarily irrideemable. At this moment in time, I can’t even remember what it was I did. However, I do remember that my first impulse was to hide the file and attempt to hide the mistake. I had to talk to myself about it for three days. Finally, hat in hand, and knowing this could be a career ender, I picked up the file and walked it over to the litigation super to talk it out. He was a little surprised, but glossed it over and I went back to my desk. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.

The lesson was reinforced again for the umpteenth time, the price of hiding the mistake was far greater than just admitting the mistake and walking through it. It is a lesson I have had to learn and relearn.