When (Not If) We Screw Up As Adults: The Power Of Repair Work

Posted: July 18, 2012 in For Educators, For Parents and Guardians, For Teenagers
Tags: , , , , , ,

Most books about parenting or dealing with young people focus on doing the “right” thing with them.  But as we all know, we don’t always do the right thing or say the kind words.  Kids push our buttons.  We’re sometimes (and often) not in the mood.  And our lives and needs occasionally feel more important than theirs… which is when we do damage to our connections.

Damage to our connections with our kids is as inevitable as it is serious.  Without healthy connections, we can have no influence and we can lose sight of what’s going on with our kids, which can lead to other bad stuff.  Knowing when the connection is damaged and how to repair our connection with them is vital in preventing risky behavior and influencing healthy behavior.

Obviously as adults, we’d all like to handle situations with our kids perfectly and prevent miscommunication and disconnect.  But this should not be at the expense of discussing the utility of mistakes and the growth that can come with good repair work after relationships have been damaged.  The mistakes we make with our kids can become profound opportunities to teach and learn lessons… as long as we’re humble enough to own them and self-aware enough to recognize them.

The list of tempting “reactions” to our kids’ behaviors is long.  We’ll hit, yell, scold, shame, over-react, punish too harshly, insult or just plain be mean.  Our emotions in these moments are driving us, not our intellect or pursuit of their development.  Our unfiltered human expressions of emotion, painful as they may be to our kids, can either end up giving them permission to express themselves thoughtlessly, or they can be used as the vehicles to take them (and us) to the healthier place of mindfulness and thoughtfulness.

After we’ve “reacted” and caused damage to our connections, what do we do?  Do we blame them for triggering us? or do we own our recklessness and find ways to hold ourselves accountable?  Do we allow our guilt for having messed up to drive us to buy them stuff they haven’t earned or give them privileges they’re not ready for? or do we express our guilt to them and share with them the ways we’ll try to be more constructive and thoughtful in response to their behaviors?

Repair work is nothing more than the efforts we put forth after we’ve screwed up or role-modeled qualities we don’t want to promote in our kids.  It role-models self-awareness, humility, courage and communication skills and it can go a long, long way in building trust and credibility with our kids.

Knowing that we can “repair” fractured relationships doesn’t mean we should give ourselves permission to be reckless and thoughtless in how we respond to our kids’ behaviors. This would simply end up role-modeling empty apologies.  Repair work is only useful if it stirs lasting changes in communication, judgment or behavior.

Given the fragility of children’s ego’s, we need to remain very mindful of just how powerful our reactions are and just how deeply they affect our kids.  Obviously, we’re going to feel and react at times without thought, but when we do this, if we can go back to our kids and listen to how our “impulsivity” affected them, than we’re increasing the likelihood that something good comes out of something “bad”.  No, we don’t want to baby our kids (unless they’re actually babies), and there will be times when we need our words and decisions to leave a mark (and I don’t mean physically), but we can’t just leave the mark without being sure that we’re leaving the mark we want to leave.

Repair work ensures that lessons are learned and that the damage we’ve done isn’t permanent.  The conversations we have after damage has been done to trust and connection are the mechanisms for growth and change, both for them as well as for us.  So when (not if) you screw up, in your home, office or classroom, with your kid, your client or your student, at some point shortly after you lashed out thoughtlessly or selfishly (and once you’ve cooled off), get a moment alone with the kid and have a conversation.  Repair what you’ve broken and show your kid how to do the same.

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