Why we shouldn’t punish our children for mistakes


As adults, we make mistakes every day, It is a part of our lives.  It is a part of how our life story becomes written. However, children are often told off and punished for making little mistakes.  Sometimes, I believe this comes from a place of concern and adults just wanting their children to be safe. However, this doesn’t really teach children much. Other than lowering their self-esteem and creating fear of asking for help. In fact, “ Punishment may release the parent’s angry feelings and make the parent feel better, but it can create fear or humiliation in the child “( Gebeke, D). This is why it is really important for us to be aware of how we respond when children make small mistakes, especially while they are young and we are building connection and security with them.

Mistakes can be reframed in our minds as opportunities to connect with our children and help them grow. Actually, studies have found that learning is enhanced when children make mistakes (Price-Mitchell, M  2011).  It is a normal, healthy part of life and we can take these moments to help our children learn how to deal with these big emotions and the consequences of making mistakes. One study showed the importance of mothers’ autonomy support for adolescents’ self-disclosure and learning from their mistakes in classroom tasks (Roth, G. Ron, T. Benita, M. 2009).  Children can learn to own their mistakes and take responsibility without shame and punishment.  By not overreacting and shaming them, but instead allowing them to be responsible and guiding them with alternatives, this allows them to be proactive with their mishaps without it having a negative effect on how they feel about themselves and us. “Punishment is ineffective because it does not teach appropriate behavior. Though it may prevent a repeat of the behavior in the short term, it does not teach the child “what to do instead,” so it rarely works in the long term. ( Gebeke, D). Instead, we can acknowledge how they feel, acknowledge what may be underlying (are they struggling with something?), and guide them (is there a better way in which they are unaware?).  

Children will make mistakes because we all need to. But at the end of the day, they want to do well, they want what is best for them and they really do want us to be proud of them. These are innate needs. What we want is to be a calm place for them to come to when they really need help,. To open their minds, allow them to expand beyond their inevitable mistakes, and evolve. And yes, it does take time this way, and it does take a heck of a lot of patience. But when our child comes to us one day and wants to take responsibility by saying “Hey mum/dad, I really messed up and I need some help figuring it out” we’ll just be so relieved that we are there to support them, rather than them hiding away and covering it up from fear to disappoint or be punished. 

When we change our perspective and approach to mistakes, from punishment, isolation, and blame, into connection, taking responsibility, and figuring out alternatives. We see wonderful transformations in both ourselves and our children, and what a  lifelong gift that is.


References: ​​​Mistakes Improve Children’s Learning | Psychology Today United Kingdom

FS-468 The Guidance Approach to Discipline [2006] (ndsu.edu)

​Mothers’ parenting practices and adolescents’ learning from their mistakes in class: The mediating role of adolescent’s self-disclosure – ScienceDirect

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. K E Garland

    This tracks with what a child psychologist once said. The consequence for the mistake is “punishment” enough; plus, it shows children how to take responsibility for what they’ve done and how to be a bit more discerning.

    1. F.Marshall

      That’s really interesting to know, thank you for adding this

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