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Breaking the Judgment Cycle

Of course I love my children unconditionally. I love them regardless of what they’re thinking or doing. I tell them that all the time! They know that . . . don’t they?

Of course I love my children unconditionally. I love them regardless of what they’re thinking or doing. I tell them that all the time! They know that . . . don’t they?

Well, except when they’re being ungracious, over-reactive, irritating, opinionated, or bossy. I can’t stand that. And I need to let them know that behaving like that is unacceptable, right? I mean, I’m not going to reward “bad behavior.” They need to learn.

When my kids used to be inflexible, irritating, or over-reactive, my first impulse was to let them know they were being inflexible, irritating, or over-reactive. Seems reasonable enough, right? Yes and no.

Emotional invalidation happens when we tell someone that what they are feeling is wrong. And it can serve to shut down a conversation. Think about it: for the same reason that when we tell a friend or a colleague something, and they don’t actually show the inclination to understand what we are saying, we get irritated, insist, say it louder, but eventually just give up.

Emotions are part of our children. They are a component, a particularly vital component, of the human experience. When we judge our children’s emotions, we are effectively withholding our love because their emotion isn’t particularly convenient for us at that moment.

What happens next is that they begin to wonder why it is so wrong to feel sad or confused or angry.

Make a Moment

It’s easy to understand the, perhaps mistaken, belief that our judgment will effectively guide our children to a better response.

  • “I know it’s yours, but stop overreacting.”

  • “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Stop whining, and just tell me what you need!”

  • “What is wrong with you? What is the big deal that your project is not going as you’d hoped? Just get on with it.”

It’s very possible that your tongue is going to feel fat and uncomfortable when you choose a more open-minded approach. Watch their reaction before you decide whether or not it’s working.

  • “I’d like to hear more about what happened so we can make sure your things are safe and respected. How can I help?”

  • “Oh, you lost! How infuriating for you after you spent so much time getting ahead. I’m not sure I completely understand how the game works; do you think you could sit with me and explain it to me?”

  • “I can see this is really important to you. Can you tell me a bit more about what happened?

Why it Works

When you let children know—with just a few moments of interest and caring—that you are on their side through all of their emotions (happy, sad, excited, mad, bouncy, teenage-y, upset), you are loving them, errrr, unconditionally.

More than anything, though, our children need us. Very often, they may need us the most when their emotions make us least likely to want to be there. Think of supporting them through emotions as something you have to do even when you don’t feel like it; sort of like making dinner or sitting in traffic when you’re in a rush. It’s not always fun, but someone’s gotta do it.

Your MicroStep

Taking a moment to resist judgment so that we can accept any emotion allows children to figure out, accept, and create consistency between their “real self” (their actual behavior) and their “ideal self” (who we want them to be).

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