Take the Shame Out of Making a Mess

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Life is Messy!

Kids have a tendency to make a mess. They spill things, break things, knock into things. They are often a little clumsy as they grow into their legs and arms and feet…and brains. But should kids feel shame on top of?

In truth, all people make messes and other simple mistakes. Your kids do it. You do it. That’s part of life. It’s a common human experience we all share.

But making messes and mistakes can be denied, and some of us tend to do that — a lot. Denial leads to a whole world of pain, miscommunication, avoidance, and more. And often it comes from a kids basic desire to avoid feeling shame.

On the other hand, when making “mistakes” is accepted without judgment, you acknowledge the imperfection of humans. Not only does that make you more appealing and “real” to other people, but it also helps you accept and respect yourself, which is a great model to set for your kids. Accepting your own messes and mistakes sets the stage to help you accept it when your kids make a mess, too.

So here’s a simple tip. It’s not a new concept, but an old adage worth adapting for our kids:

Don’t fuss over spilled milk…or over a chair knocked over, or over a broken glass.

Mistakes happen. Messes happen. Accept that as a fundamental part of life (especially when you’re raising kids).

Help Kids Avoid Feeling Shame

I heard a speaker once tell a beautiful story about his father’s response when he accidentally drove a car into a lake. It shocked the audience to hear that the father didn’t get angry. Or shameful. Or even overly disappointed.

He got practical. “Well son,” he said, “how are you going to get to the dance?”

While I’m not suggesting that you ignore all mistakes, I am suggesting that you accept that mistakes are human. Make the effort to stay matter-of-fact about them.

Next Time…

The next time something in your house gets broken, or knocked over, or bumped; the next time your child slides into a chair, or bumps into a wall, or even chases the dog around the house; let it go. No shame, no judgment. Let kids be kids.

In fact, I challenge you to try to avoid correcting your child (for a week for anything that’s not life or safety critical, of course). Keep their mistakes to yourself. Invite your child to help clean up when they’ve made a mess. And then move on.

Most complex kids already know when they’ve made a mistake. Hearing others correct them can feel like a barrage of criticism, or constant reminders that they aren’t who you want them to be. They don’t need to hear it every time. It can make them feel hopeless, like there’s no point in trying if they’re only going to continue to disappoint.

Can you try it? For one week, try not to re-direct unless it’s critical. Be part of the solution to help your kids avoid feeling shame.

And remember: when you do respond, get practical. Rather than pointing out what they did or what happened, try something like, “Well, kiddo, let’s clean up this mess, shall we?”

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