Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Successful Transitions: What Do You Do When Your Kids Make Mistakes?

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One of the big challenges that we face as parents of children with special medical needs is dealing with the extra stress and frustration that comes with the territory. When our kids make mistakes, especially around their medical care, it’s so easy to fall into a pattern of nagging, lecturing, yelling or punishing. Brain research shows that these are not effective responses. Think about it. How would you feel if you made a mistake at work and your boss yelled at you? You’d be polishing up your resume to find a new job. Our kids are no different except they don’t have the luxury of finding new parents!

When we start giving our children some of the responsibility to handle their health care requirements, then we need to be prepared for mistakes and poor choices. Kids are human. They will forget to take their medications. There will be times that they choose not to do medical treatments for a variety of reasons. However, our children will either learn or not learn from these mistakes and poor choices depending on the way we respond to them. 

So instead of getting mad when your child makes a mistake or a poor choice, be sad for them. Responding with empathy, or sorrow, prior to imposing consequences is more effective than anger, punishment, nagging, lecturing and "pushing." Anger and punishment cause fight or flight responses; its fear and guilt based. Lectures and nagging cause children to become annoyed or tune out. Pushing a kid a kid to do it right causes increased resistance. Empathy and consequences teach children to think and are more likely to result in a learning experience. Plus, you up the odds that you will have a good relationship with your children over the years.

There have been times when Lisa's children decided to put off their breathing treatments until later in the day. Then they forgot altogether. Mom and Dad's response has been along the lines of, “Oh sweetie, what a bummer. We won’t be going out to dinner (at your favorite restaurant) now because we won’t have enough time to do both.”

This type of response makes a much bigger impact than lecturing, nagging, yelling, or threatening. For success in parenting, use few words and meaningful action instead.

Foster W. Cline, MD is a child psychiatrist and co-founder of Love and Logic®. Lisa C. Greene is a parenting educator and mom of two children with cystic fibrosis. Together they have written the award-winning book “Parenting Children with Health issues."  For free audio, articles and other resources, visit  

For more tips about how to use empathy, check out the condensed version of “Parenting Children with Health Issues”.   

©Copyright by Foster Cline, MD and Lisa Greene. All rights reserved

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