Several years ago I fell in a brief rut of saying, "What were you thinking?!?" to my kids. It took about a week of hearing myself say this (and seeing blank looks in response) to realize that it was a particularly lame question. Clearly they hadn't been thinking at all when they did whatever it was I was upset about.
Kids make a lot of mistakes because they don't think things through. There are adults who do this, too. There are Fortune 500 companies that do it. I daresay I have occasionally suffered from the same malady.
The tricky part is remembering that just because I can see that A--> B --> C, I can't assume the sequence is obvious to others (especially kids). Asking them, "If you do A, what will happen next? And then what...?" tends work better than bloviating over why they didn't think of B or C. (When I remember to do it, that is.)
However, there are times when a child progresses to point C and it's not a matter of not thinking. There's a name for when you know something is wrong and choose to do it anyway: it's sin. I have been working hard lately not to get angry at my children when they sin. Making bad choices is part of life. My job isn't to get mad, but to help my kids make better choices as they grow older.
In many senses it's easier to deal with things like a stolen candy bar (today's incident) than with dirty dishes left carelessly on the table three times a day. With a stolen candy bar I know what to do: get the child to make restitution and ask for forgiveness. There's a clear path, which I can follow in a detached way without getting angry.
But the less concrete the sin -- and perhaps the more it relates to my kids' character flaws that might reflect on me as a mother -- the harder I find it to remain neutral. Things like habitually inconsiderate behavior or meanness toward siblings put me on weedier ground. I get annoyed when my words go unheeded. I get irritated when my strategies to rectify the situation don't work. Tonight I'm wondering if this is because I feel some kind of personal investment in the outcome.
Today as I escorted my child back from the candy store I had a momentary Oh no! This is the first step on the road to prison! reaction. Fortunately I remembered my child's age, and the number of similar offenses done by other children of the same age, and blew off the tendency to extrapolate. Parenting is a lot easier when you are mindful of the future but centered on the present.