child smiling at her mother

When Your Child Makes Bad Choices


Raising children is a contradictory ongoing life event. Our children have the ability to bring the greatest joy into our lives as well as some of the greatest sorrows. Not because they are terrible or horrid, but because the work of growing little people into responsible and kind citizens of the world is dirty messy work and glorious at the same time. There are often times there are no words to describe the feelings our children evoke in us. It is no wonder we have some of our most passionate reactions in life involving our children. Good and bad. It’s easy to discuss those beautiful joyful moments. It’s harder to talk about those moments when you feel that mix of mortification, humiliation and deep disappointment. What do we do with those feelings? Six kids, four grandchildren and more to come doesn’t make me an expert, or even confident that I know what I’m doing, but, it does give me some experience. Below are a few lessons we’ve learned along the way.

It’s not about you- All too often we as parents react out of embarrassment or humiliation instead of taking the time to breathe and look at all sides of a situation. We take our child’s behavior as a direct reflection on ourselves and our parenting skills. We unwittingly allow ourselves to worry how others perceive our worth as a parent. DON’T. It’s not helpful to let the opinions of others regarding how you should or should not correct your child influence how you parent. Setting our own feelings aside, we can more clearly focus on how we can help our child learn from the decisions they have made and make amends where possible.

Keep in mind the end goal- We have to be careful to block out the judging eyes and accusatory tones of those around us and the embarrassment we will inevitably feel at some point along the way. Many times we will have to acknowledge that yes, indeed, our pride and joy has made a terrible choice, one that as a parent we must address. If the end goal is raising our children to be good and kind, strong and self-sufficient, productive and successful then remember; some of the greatest life lessons that will have lasting influence on our children will come out of times they make poor choices. How we help them navigate through those experiences is more important than what others think.

Never assume you know the whole story- I wish, I WISH, I had taken this to heart so much earlier in my parenting career. Sometimes I was too harsh, unreasonably so, and other times I did not see the whole picture and did not stand the ground that needed to be stood. On one occasion one of my children brought a story home to me regarding a P.E. teacher and his disregard for my child’s safety. I was incensed, outraged even! I wrote a scathing letter and requested a meeting. I am after all my child’s advocate. It’s my job to protect her. My husband and I left that meeting still incensed and outraged. The target of our ire however was now my beautiful perfect child. In the parking lot of the school, barely containing my anger, I stood the ground that needed to be stood. I turned to this child and said, “Child, I love you more than I can express and I will fight dragons for you. I will go to the ends of the earth to be your champion, but you had better make sure YOU are not the dragon.”

Take time to talk and to listen- When stuff happens and people are pointing fingers at your child, or your child is pointing fingers at others, it is never a bad idea to disrupt the chaotic energy stirring up emotions by being still and quiet. Taking time to let emotions settle and to hear what is really going on will go much further than emotionally charged exchanges or decisions being made. Sometimes your child WILL get the short end of the stick. It happens. The short end of the stick is NOT the lesson to teach. It’s what we do with that experience that is the lesson. Those lessons are hard. A sense of justice might never be achieved. In those situations it’s important to model a healthy attitude and focus on what we have control over. There are other times when we need to fight the dragons for our child. Choose thoughtfully where you spend that energy.

Check your expectations- There are times when we overreact and expect more than our children are developmentally able to give. That doesn’t mean we don’t teach, correct or instruct them. It means that we understand a two year old is driven by two year old desires and a two year old view of the world. It doesn’t change when they are ten, twelve or even twenty. Change is constant and those changes often drive behavior. One day you are dealing with cutting teeth, potty training and separation anxiety causing melt downs then all of a sudden it’s body hair, driver’s education and dating. Make sure you are discerning which are easy to pull weeds in the garden of growing children and which weeds might need additional help to pull. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference, but we live in a day and age when we have the ability to gather information very quickly. Parenting is a constant topic of interest; new parents are born every day! It will never be a bad idea to ask questions. Military OneSource has counselors available just for that!

Keep it simple-

Stop and breath – Take time to evaluate the situation before you form opinions or make decisions.

Listen and love – even if they did make a mistake, our kids need to be heard and know they are still loved regardless.

Make adjustments and stay strong – If you need to provide consequences stand by them and see them through.

Let them grow and overcome their bad choice- This is one of the most important things we can do for anyone, but especially our children.

You are not your child’s decisions and guess what? Neither are they! Keep that in mind when you are wondering what in the world they were thinking. They are precious, even when they remind you of a troll and letting go of the opinions of others frees you up to truly love them unconditionally.

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