Imagine a scenario I'm sure you've either witnessed or participated in:
Little Jimmy looks up at his mom with tears streaming down his little dirt stained face, pain in his eyes, and blood trickling down his scraped knee. He'd been running on the concrete (AGAIN!) and tripped over his own two feet (of course after his mother had reminded him not to run at least one hundred times).
Little Jimmy’s mom (let’s just use one caregiver for the sake of simplicity) has multiple ways in which she could respond. What little Jimmy needs right now is to be scooped up by his mom, given a kiss, and told that everything will be ok.
Instead what little Jimmy gets is a disapproving look, followed by the words,
"How many times have I told you not to run on the concrete? See? This is what happens when we run around and don't pay attention to our surroundings."
Little Jimmy’s mom feels her ego building up because she’s confirmed that once again she’s right. She’s proven to her son that it’s important to listen to and trust his caregivers. Which of course is true.
But what this parent doesn't understand is that although, yes there is a time and a place to teach little Jimmy a lesson, the time is not now. The time is not when her child is vulnerable, either emotionally or physically.
Hey little Jimmy’s mom! Save the lecture.
What little Jimmy needs from his mom is concern and forgiveness for his mistake. He needs to know that his wound will heal, and that his mom is there for him.
He doesn’t need a long lecture about how many times he’s been told not run on the concrete. Save the lecture.
There’s a different and less obvious lesson that has presented itself for Jimmy’s mom to teach, and that lesson is how to resist the urge to demonstrate her superiority by biting her tongue. The alternative lesson is how to express compassion, and how to nurture and care for another human being.
If you find that you're a lot like little Jimmy's mom, then keep reading.
First of all, before we go any further and before you start beating yourself up, please know that we're all guilty of lecturing. Me included.
I'm not trying to shame you or tell you that because you lecture you're a horrible parent. Absolutely not! You're reading an article right now about how to better connect with your child.
So I'm guessing you're a pretty decent parent.
Sometimes we have off days where our kids are driving us absolutely crazy, and of course you're not going to be at your best because you're depleted. I get it, believe me I do.
I'm just bringing the topic to your awareness to offer you a different way to parent that strengthens the connection instead of weakening it. If you can do it most of the time then you're golden.
Think about it from your own perspective for a minute. Remember a time when you made a mistake and felt that fear and shame building up. You knew you had to tell a particular person that you screwed up, but before you even told him or her, you just knew that he or she was going to give you a long lecture about it.
Notice how that feels right now. Really connect with that memory. I bet you felt afraid to tell that person, and most likely humiliated and full of shame when you sat and listened to that person rant about your wrongdoing. You didn’t need the lecture to know that. I bet you already felt it in your gut. I bet you wanted to run and hide. That’s what shame feels like.
Your kids are absolutely no different. They feel just as horrible with those lectures immediately after their mistake. Unless you have the kind of kid who feels no remorse, and if that’s the case you’ve got bigger fish to fry and your child’s issues are out of the scope of this article.
That temporary moment of superiority most parents feel when lecturing their child is of the ego. It’s disguised as being helpful, but trust me in that moment it’s not. The only thing it’s helping with is building up your own sense of being “better than” your child.
And yes, although now you’ve got concrete evidence that supports what you’ve been preaching, immediately after the mistake is not the time to rub it in. Absolutely, what you’ve been saying is important, but timing is key!
Now I'm not saying that you never ever teach your children lessons, of course you do.
Lessons are necessary and appropriate.
But save the lesson for later when they're not sad and upset or scared. Wait an hour (or more or less) depending on how sensitive your child is to perceived criticism. Have an objective conversation without the shame component.
You can say something (in a very patient and loving tone) like, “Hey, how’s your knee feeling? I could see how much that hurt! You think you could try to remember to slow down next time? That can help so you don’t trip again. I love you and I don’t like seeing you get hurt. How can I help you remember? Let’s brainstorm.”
Notice how different that conversation feels instead of, “How many times have I told you to stop running? See? This is what happens when you don’t listen. You get hurt.”
One conversation allows for future problem solving which teaches your child to notice his or her mistakes and then plan accordingly to correct it in some way, which is very empowering. When you offer to help your child create a solution, you allow for greater connection.
The other conversation doesn’t offer a solution, leaves the child feeling inferior, and promotes disconnection from the child and parent. I don't know about you, but I sure don't want to connect with someone who has just shamed me. Your judgmental lecture also creates fear of being honest with you about future events.
How likely do you think it will be that your child will ask you for help, or be honest with you in the future if he or she knows that your response will be full of criticism and judgement?
Next time your child makes a mistake, or gets hurt, or does something that you’ve asked him or her a million times not to do, try to bite your tongue. Believe me I know it's hard. Especially when you've told them over and over and over. But go ahead, humor me and challenge yourself.
Connect with how your child might be feeling in that moment. Label the emotion and offer compassion and patience.
Save the lecture for later if needed. It’s quite possible that your child learned the lesson from the event and no lecture is even needed.
In the moment, choose to teach your child a different lesson.
Teach them that you’re physically and emotionally there for them no matter what. Teach them that you love them equally when they’re behaving in the desired way, as well as when they’re making mistakes. That is truly unconditional love.
I encourage you to choose to strengthen the relationship every single time.
Will you get it right every time? Probably not. I know I sure don’t.
If you mess up, give yourself a healthy dose of self-love and acceptance and try to get it right the next time.
There’s always tomorrow . . . and wine.
Tarah Galloway, LCPC, ATR is a professional counselor, art therapist, and mom. She specializes in helping people reclaim their lives and their children's lives after experiencing significant life stressors, also known as trauma. Tarah focuses on whole body healing, neuropsychology, and practical applications that help people confidently achieve their goals and awaken their inner power.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos