How to Help Kids When They Mess Up

By Janis Meredith | Posted 1/30/2019

Kids mess up. Some of them can shake it off as nothing; others are embarrassed or ashamed.

I will never forget the middle school basketball game when my daughter eagerly drove the ball to the basket for a score – in the other team’s basket. Of course, we laugh about it now, but at the time, she was close to tears.

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When your child is embarrassed or ashamed of their performance in a game or sports event, how can you help them move past the humiliation?

Feel their pain

Your first step as a parent should be to respond with empathy, not anger. For example, when you see how upset your child is after a mistake or a blown play, try responding with compassion: “I know how frustrated and disappointed you are. It feels bad when mistakes happen. Remember that you’ll have plenty more games and chances to do better.”

Encourage your child to get back on the bike

If your child is ashamed or embarrassed about how they played, they may be reluctant to get back out there and try again. But getting back out there again is the best thing for your child to do. Perhaps some backyard practice with you or an afternoon in the gym will help build confidence again.

You wouldn’t let your child give up learning to ride a bike just because they fell off during the first try, would you? Encourage your child to get back on and keep riding!

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Help your child tolerate tilting

I read about a therapist who said that people are embarrassed because they expect perfection from themselves. She explained that everyone should be allowed to “tilt,” meaning that we all will be off-kilter now and then and that’s OK.

Perfectionist children need to be constantly reminded that tilting is OK and that no one – not a coach, not a teacher, not teammates and not YOU – expects them to perform perfectly every time.

Help your child laugh

When your child is embarrassed, tell them that it's OK to laugh it off. The first reaction may be to cry or get angry but making a joke out of it is a way to make light of the situation and deflect attention. Remind them to give other kids a break when they make mistakes, so they'll do the same for them.

We’ve all been there

Every one of us has a story of when we messed up. Whenever my kids want a good laugh, they all remind me of the time I came out of the portable toilet during a softball game with toilet paper hanging from my pants. My husband’s entire softball team was momentarily distracted from their game as they laughed, and my husband called me on my cell phone to tell me. I will never live that one down!

Perhaps sharing your story with your child will help her lighten up, forget the momentary embarrassment as she laughs over yours, and remind her that we’ve all been there.

Janis B. Meredith is a family and parenting coach. She provides resources to help parents raise champions. Learn more about how she can help parents Raise Champions.