Oops! I Didn’t Mean To

February 4th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Hello!  Exodus 21: 12-13 introduces to us the concept of the cities of refuge.  If a person kills another accidentally, God provides for him a place of refuge where he can run and be sheltered.  God takes into account the motivation of a person, even when he has participated in a most terrible action, that of ending someone’s life!

While the verse about accidental murderer may not seem to directly parallel parenting, it did make me think of how we as mothers can best react when a child does something wrong and immediately claims, “I didn’t mean to!  It was an accident!”  Whether or not we believe ourselves that our child’s intentions were pure, there are compelling reasons for us to give him the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that his intentions were positive.  What are those reasons?

According to developmental psychologist, Gordon Neufeld, our aim as mothers should be to change our children’s minds, not their behavior.  Instead of obsessing over bad behavior, we can solicit our children’s good intentions and their desire to do the right thing even while acknowledging that they can’t always follow through. It seems so much simpler for parents to be behavior focused – use star charts, prizes, or consequences, but those tools aren’t really helping our children develop the values we want them to have in life.  On the other hand, if we help them reach a place of good intentions, our children are aiming in the right direction and that starts the process of them developing their internal sense of right and wrong and strengthens their desire to do right.

You and I know that despite many of our good intentions, we, ourselves, often fall short, but it is the very fact that we are aiming for something meaningful and positive that inspires us to get up and try again and again and again.  By showing our child that we believe in their innate goodness and their desire to do the right thing, even when sometimes they mess up or give in to an urge to do wrong, we are demonstrating our belief in their greatness. 

Accepting their claims of positive intentions or accidental errors, even as they mess up, lets us validate them and help them think through future situations without feeling defensive or shamed.  For example, “I like that you were trying!  This situation didn’t work out the way you were hoping it would, let’s see what we can do to help you do better next time?”

Rabbi Meyer Schwab of Denver explains that although the rest of the tribes of Israel are counted in the desert from the age of 20, the tribe of  Levi is counted from one month old. Why?  Levi served in the Tabernacle directly before God.  They had extremely lofty goals and standards of behavior. When someone knows they are aiming for greatness, you can count on the fact that their education will be successful even while they are still babies. 

If we can come alongside our children’s positive intentions, even while they make mistakes, they will know we believe in their goodness and their intentions to always keep aiming for greatness.

I wish you a day filled with great intentions!

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2 comments

James says:

A profound posting! Giving the child the benefit of the doubt is a worthy tactic. So is forgiving the bad behavior and focusing on the positive. This reminds me of a known exhortation to leaders to focus on the positive, as follows: ‘Don’t worry about the shortcomings of your subordinates. Focus and concentrate instead on their strengths.’ I see a useful parallel: instead of dwelling on the negative, reinforce the positive! And replace the bad habits with positive ones.

Susan Lapin says:

I wish I had done more of this as a mother, James. I agree that it is sound advice.

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