It takes me a lot of effort not to praise my son. I am so proud of him, I want to tell him everyday how well he behaved and how well he played a sport and how kind he was to his friend and how he listened to me…
It takes me a lot of effort to not criticise my son. I expect more of a person who has doting parents, opportunities, food, water, love, friends. I expect more of him when he disrespects me.
In both instances, I feel the words rising in my throat… both good and bad… and I have to physically swallow them. But why would you not want to praise your child? Wouldn’t that reinforce ‘good’ behaviour? Similarly, why would you not want to make your displeasure at his ‘bad’ behaviour clear?
Because: We don’t want our children to feel worthy or not worthy because of their actions. Their actions do not define who they are. They are both ‘good’ and ‘bad’; they are both ‘rude’ and ‘kind’; there is night and day; there is black and white.
We are dual. Having both sides is human. By giving energy to one side, for example, praising our children when they play a sport well, they will start feeling that it is important to play well to get us to love them. They will start hating themselves when they play badly. They will begin to feel less worthy when they don’t because their parents’ face didn’t light up.
Similarly, when we start criticising our children and ‘punishing’ them with our displeasure and words, we are giving their darker side more attention. If there is a time when they don’t feel like they’re getting enough attention from us, they will act out in a way that gets them the attention they’re craving — screaming, yelling, being rude, playing badly… they know it’s ‘bad’, but it got their busy parent to give them attention. And soon, they start believing that they are, in fact, ‘bad’.
I know this is a difficult concept to come to terms with. How will we teach our child what is good and bad if we don’t express how we feel? How will our children learn?
The answer is simple: teach your children to look within and learn from their feelings, NOT how we make them feel. This is a subtle but very important difference. Ask them how they felt in a certain instance, NOT express how you felt. Teach them to look within. You’re teaching them a skill — looking within for worth, not relying on your praise to feel good.
Connect with the feelings beneath the behaviour.
If your child is rude and you want to teach your child that it is not okay to be rude:
FIRST connect: “I see that you’re very angry right now.”
THEN make your presence and unconditional love felt: “I love you. I’m here.”
AND then help your child look within: “Something must’ve been upsetting you to behave like that. How are you feeling inside?”
By not making our feelings known and instead, teaching our children to be aware of their feelings, we are teaching them the cardinal truth of life: The way we feel inside is the only truth. How others feel about us is NOT a source of our worth.
We are our children’s entire universe, you see. If we praise them for a certain behaviour, they begin to think the universe will only accept them if they behave in that way. If we reprimand them, they start believing the universe thinks they’re bad and will start identifying themselves as bad.
When we teach our children to look within, we show them that the universe exists within them. Every feeling is valid, every part of them is who they are. The world’s love or censure will not matter… because we taught them that the only thing that really matters is how they feel about themselves.
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