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Son Confesses Mistakes

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 12-year-old son is a pretty honest kid. He tellls my husband and me things he may have done or said that were inappropriate. We appreciate his honesty and let him know that. Still, in some situations I find myself getting mad or upset. Then, our conversation ends with him crying, saying, "Why did I even tell you?" When this happens I always ask myself how I could have better handled the situation.

I'm afraid that my son won't come to us anymore because of being afraid of getting in trouble. What do we do when he tells us about behavior that isn't acceptable?

A: If at all possible, you and your husband need to try to maintain an open, non-judgmental relationship with your son. He is doing his part, risking disapproval and shame by telling you things about himself that will probably disappoint you. You can begin by adopting the old philosophy of separating the misdeed from the doer.

Let your boy know that his disclosure of his misbehavior may be met with disapproval of the misdeed but that it does not threaten his status of remaining loved and appreciated in your eyes. However, it would hurt his moral growth if you immediately forgive him for his wrongdoings. Kids need to feel shame, guilt, and remorse for some of their hurtful actions and misdeeds. When he confesses his misdeeds to you, use this opportunity to allow him to express these emotions, ask him how he feels about what he did and why he did it.

Look closer at why certain confessions made you angry. You'll be able to see some themes emerge -- whether it's lying, stealing, betrayal of trust, vandalism, etc. -- there are clearly some things that bother you much more than others. Once you've done this introspective analysis, share with your son what was behind your angry responses (maybe, as is often times the case, events from your own childhood).

He's old enough to understand these explanations and it will help him not to personalize your responses as much if they do occur in the future.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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