Your child is not ‘smart’.
Your child is not ‘naughty’.
Your child is not ‘bad,’ ‘good’, ‘handsome’, ‘pretty’, ‘independent’, ‘kind’, ‘sweet’ or ‘loving’...
Our children are everything and nothing all at once.
By labelling them with adjectives, we box them in. We clip their ability to soar into the unknown and become everything.
Let’s take being called ‘good’, for example
When we call our children ‘good’, we may think we are praising them with positive reinforcement and praise. And yes, it does make them smile. But then, this is what ends up happening:
They start identifying themselves as ‘good’.
They start doing things that they think are ‘good’.
They are conditioned to believe that is who they are.
Now, you may tell me that you call your child ‘good’ but he acts out and throws tantrums and exhibits some very ‘not good’ behaviour.
What do you do when their behaviour is not good?
Do you show displeasure and call their behaviour ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’?
When we do that, our children start believing that crying, being vulnerable and having big feelings is not something you accept. We, their parents, their source of unconditional acceptance, are rejecting a part of them and are choosing only to smile when they behave the way we want to.
Over time, children who are labelled ‘good’ grow up to be adults who only play by the rules. They become passive, needy for approval and people pleasers. They don’t learn to say ‘no’ or stand up for themselves. Subconsciously, they have learned that it is only by behaving a certain way that you receive love. And so they negate all the feelings they are naturally endowed with as human beings.
What happens when a child is called ‘bad’? The opposite. A rebel is born, trapped by a label.
What our children need is to celebrate all of themselves, all at once. They don’t need to perform, do or say anything to be accepted. So how do we do this?
Your child played tennis really well that day
Instead of saying: “Great shot!” or “Good job.”
Say (later): “I noticed how you hit the ball. How did you do that? You’ve been practising a lot!” OR “You looked like you were having a lot of fun today.”
WHY? Because once you yell ‘great shot’ that will give your child a boost. And your child will keep listening for it. When your child doesn’t hear it, he/she/they will work harder. What is your child’s motivation? Your love and your approval, NOT the intrinsic desire to play the game. Your child will learn to look outside for motivation instead looking inside, where it really counts.
When you focus on the process, the effort and the joy, you teach your child to focus within.
Your child just hit his/her/their sibling
Instead of saying: “No! That’s not good. Be a good older brother/sister and hug your baby brother/sister. Say sorry.”
Say: “It is not okay to hit. It is okay to be upset. I’m going to move away your baby brother/sister and then come and hug you.”
Here, you are separating your child’s behaviour from the feeling AND teaching your child that it is okay to have feelings. By forcing your child to hug and say sorry, you’re invalidating everything he/she/they may be experiencing that drove that behaviour: Jealousy, fear that the baby is taking over everything and fear that you don’t love him/her/them as much.
It’s not easy to begin speaking this way and none of us are perfect. We may slip up. When we do, which we will… just say this every day, as many times as it takes:
“I love you for who you are. You are wonderful just as you are. You don’t have to do anything or be anything to deserve my love.”
Let THIS be the voice in your child’s head.
Let THIS be the subconscious power that drives your child.
Nothing more, nothing less.
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