When You Make Parenting Mistakes With Your Child

Dr. Laura Markham of Aha Parenting shares three positive parenting tips to help you right wrongs in the heat of the moment.

parenting mistakes

You may have noticed that you aren’t perfect. That sometimes you aren’t the parent or the person you want to be. Sometimes you blow it. We all do. Welcome to humanity.

The bad news is that even if we’re committed to being the best parent, and best person, we can be, we will never be perfect. Life happens. We get off track. We get disconnected — from our child, our partner, our own deepest guidance. We see the other person as making our life more difficult, rather than realizing that they’re having a hard time. We feel hurt, we feel frustrated, we feel trapped. We lash out.

There’s no way to stay constantly on a path of harmony, without occasional wrong turns. In fact, all relationships are a constant series of connections and disconnections, missteps and course corrections.

The good news, though, is that the more quickly we notice those actions that are taking us in the wrong direction, the easier it is to course correct.

The even better news is that our sincere course corrections actually strengthen our relationships.

  • Every time you re-connect with your child after a disconnection, you teach trust.
  • Every time you choose love over anger, you role-model anger management.
  • Every time you let go of hurt and reach for understanding, you model compassion.
  • Every time you reach across a divide between you and a loved one, you testify to the boundlessness of your love, your commitment that “There ain’t no river wide enough” to keep your love from getting through.

So when you find yourself off track, don’t be afraid to pause, re-group, apologize to your child, and find a way to repair. You’re teaching one of the most essential lessons: That we all make mistakes, that we can all recover, that relationships are resilient and each of us has the power to repair them.

Worried that if you apologize every time you raise your voice, your child will begin to mistrust your apologies? The solution is to tune in BEFORE things get out of hand, so you can course correct before things go too far off track. Every time you do that, you’re re-wiring your brain, so you can manage yourself better. So you won’t have so many opportunities to apologize!

Here are three best practices for faster course correction.


Notice your own reactions


Like an airplane, you’re actually equipped to notice when you get off-course. When you feel bad, that’s your beeping red light on the dashboard. Your own upset feelings are a signal to you to change course.

You may have thought those feelings were a signal that something outside of you needed changing, like your child. And yes, your internal alarm system is indeed designed to show you when something isn’t working for you. But the message is always for you to begin by getting centered, so you can make a wise decision about the best way to intervene. (Hint: You’re always modeling for your child, which means you want your interventions to include compassion and connection, even when you’re setting limits.)

So when you veer into dangerous territory, just stop. Breathe deeply at least three times. Resist taking action until you calm yourself. Use a mantra that helps you, such as:

  • It’s not an emergency.
  • He’s acting like a child because he is a child.
  • Choose love!


Remind yourself of your target destination


For instance, at this moment maybe you’re tired and frustrated, but your end goals are to stay positively connected to your child and to model emotional regulation, because that helps your child to self-regulate — right now, and for the rest of her life.

What’s your vision of your relationship with your child? Warm, close, your child being open to your guidance? Let all your steps take you toward that vision.

Ask yourself: If I were my child, what would I need right now?

Reconnect with your child


Sure, you want to teach him a lesson. But he can’t learn while he’s in fight, flight or freeze. He needs to reconnect with you to feel safe. Once you reconnect with compassion, and everyone’s settled down, he’ll be open to your guidance again.

Feeling too angry to reconnect? Give yourself whatever support you need to get back on track. You’re the grown-up, so you have to be the one to step up and heal the disconnects.

These three steps won’t keep you from getting off course, but they will help you get back on track faster. So when you find yourself off course, don’t worry about having been on the wrong path. Just start wherever you are, and course correct.  Love will get you home.


Published with permission from Aha! Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham. 

Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist, earning her PhD from Columbia University.  But she’s also a mom, so she translates proven science into the practical solutions you need for the family life you want.

Dr. Laura is the author of the books Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings:How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. For more information, visit ahaparenting.com