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What does it mean to turn parenting lemons into lemonade?

Turning parenting lemons into lemonade is all about taking accountability for the times you blow your cover as a parent. Those times you lose your temper, react without thinking, say something you later regret, let them down, or, generally make a mistake. The lemon is the rupture you create in your relationship that requires you to make a repair. The beauty of making a repair is that you turn that parenting lemon into lemonade.

The thing is, ruptures are okay, so long as there is a repair. That can actually factor towards greater resilience in your kids, not take away from it.

It’s very easy for us, as parents or caregivers, to feel guilty, and beat ourselves up about making mistakes in our relationships with our kids. We need to flip this mindset. We can show our kids that it’s normal to make mistakes. Mistakes aren’t failures, they’re opportunities to make different choices. As fallible humans, we all need permission to make mistakes.

Making a mistake is simply that – a mis-take – an indication we need to make a course correction. Seeing mistakes as failures can grind us to a halt, but seeing them as course corrections keep us looking, and moving forward. Having the ability to apply a growth mindset to mistakes, and continue to see a way to keep moving forward is an important trait of resilience. That’s a trait we want to pass down to our kids.

What happens in our relationships with kids if we don’t repair the ruptures?

Sometimes, the fear as a parent can be, that if our kids see us making mistakes, they’ll lose respect for our authority – there’ll be full-on mutiny, and the whole system will descend into chaos. In fact, the opposite is true. If we’re not being authentic, kids pick it from a mile off. You can’t cover for making mistakes and pretend it hasn’t happened – they can smell it. It happens, and it’s more than fine, it can be a good thing.

Mucking up gives us an opportunity to teach our kids that we are always redeemable. They don’t have to be afraid of being rejected, or losing your love and approval, just because they’ve made a mistake.

When there are ruptures in our relationships, there can easily be repairs, and moving on doesn’t need to be a big deal. When kids don’t feel safe to make mistakes, they’ll cease trying, because to try and fail, could mean to feel rejected and abandoned in your love — to feel shamed, insecure, and inferior to the standards they think you expect. Mistakes become too risky. To cease trying means they’ll survive, but not thrive.

We are all going to make mistakes, and that’s okay, we are only human. It’s unreasonable to expect otherwise from ourselves or from our kids. Probably, all of us have a pretty harsh self-critic in our heads, and that was installed in childhood. Just imagine how freeing it would be for our kids, if they can go through their lives without being held back by that?

There’s a great quote from Steve Biddulph that I love, “Our kids make mistakes, and they know they make mistakes. If we’re not making them as well, in a very explicit way, they will have a deep sense of inferiority – that there’s something wrong with them.”

On a practical level, what does it sound like for parents to repair their ruptures?

Here’s a recent example from my house … One afternoon my son said, “Mum, I don’t think you got enough sleep last night. You need an early night.” That was a gentle way of saying, ‘you’re being too grumpy and horrible today.’ He was right. I was glad he pulled me up on it. It gave me a chance to take a pull on the reins and regroup. It wasn’t fair for the kids to bear the brunt of my irritable mood, and I really was being unreasonable.

Getting that gentle ‘performance review’ gave me the opportunity to say, “I’m sorry, I’m being too grumpy, aren’t I? I’m just not feeling that great today. It’s not your fault and I shouldn’t make you feel like it is. You’re not doing anything wrong. I think I might have a bath and get an early night. That will help me feel better and do better tomorrow. I’m really sorry, mate.”

Just like that, we all moved on. I redeemed myself and the kids didn’t have to go to bed thinking they’d done anything wrong, in fact, they helped me action a repair both for them, and for me.

How does repairing ruptures count towards a child’s resiliency?

Children don’t learn from what we tell them, they learn from what we show them. We all know people that are incapable of saying sorry or taking accountability for their actions; it’s really destructive for our relationships. If we can demonstrate how to make reparations when there’s been a breakdown in a relationship, our kids’ ability to communicate, resolve conflict and move forward, is going to serve them throughout their lives.

To instil this quality in our children we can simply teach them by demonstrating the kind of behaviour and language they’ll need through our own actions.

We can also demonstrate using tools and strategies they can use when they need to regain control of their emotions if they’re feeling out of control. This might look like taking a few deep breaths, doing some exercise, taking a bath, talking to a friend, or having a cuddle.

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An example of that language can sound like this:

“I’m sorry that I got angry and yelled at you to get in the car. That wasn’t very grown-up of me. I was feeling frustrated because we’re going to be late. That’s not your fault. I’m going to take three deep breaths right now to calm down before we start driving.”

When we take accountability for our behaviour, we show our kids:

  1. It’s okay to make mistakes and own them.
  2. It’s not a big deal to say ‘sorry’ and ask for forgiveness.
  3. We have practical tools to help ourselves, and others feel better.

We’re not just giving them dialogue around how to turn lemons into lemonade, we’re also showing them how we use a strategy to get back on track.

What does resiliency look like in children?

A child in the process of developing traits of resiliency is one who, most of the time, but not always:

  • Feels safe and secure in their home environment.
  • Feels seen and heard. They know it’s safe to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Has a strong bonded relationship with their parent or caregiver and knows they can go to them to ask for help.
  • Can show some empathy and consideration to others, and can be gentle with thoughts and feelings about themselves.
  • Can participate and persevere during activities, along with developing some problem-solving abilities.
  • Can solve boredom with their own creativity and feels confident to engage in free-play activities that may involve appropriate risk-taking.
  • Feels free to use words and behaviour to communicate when they need help and support.

Whether or not a child becomes resilient is determined by what influences they are surrounded by in their environment, not what attributes they may be born with. It is determined by who we are and what we do, not by who they are and what they do.

Hannah Davison is the author and co-founder of the award-winning children’s book initiative, My Big Moments – personalised picture books, backed by research and expert consultation, to help little people through big moments.

The range covers the topics of starting school, building resilience, getting a new sibling, grief and loss, and going to hospital.

Find out more and create a book at mybigmoments.com. Join ‘the village’ on Instagram at @mybigmoments to access free practical help and support for parents and caregivers.