How To Teach Kids What’s Right Without Making Them Feel Wrong

Parenting

If we’re ever unkind to people, just because they’re unkind to us, returning like for like, we’re usually left with an uncomfortable feeling that lets us know it wasn’t our best response to the situation. It was a fear-based, defensive response, because we’ve been taught to look out for ourselves. But no one learns better behavior from it.

If someone says something unkind, that person is probably feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, unloved, unloving. And it’s a dis-ease we don’t need to catch. We don’t need to give like for like when treated negatively. Compassion is the response that works best.

The same is true with our kids.

Giving our kids a negative type of like for like can teach them the opposite of what we want them to learn. If we punish them, they won’t associate our treatment of them with their misbehavior. Instead, they’ll associate it with our expression of domination and manipulation, and they’ll resent us for it.

What works is to help our children realize what’s in their best interest, because that’s the reason they’ll follow the rules. So instead of showing our disapproval, better to teach them how to recognize what will, and won’t, work effectively for them in their lives.

They’re always watching us.

As parents, it’s easy to become tellers, filling our kids’ heads with more information than they need. But they’re so busy watching what we do that it overrides most of what we say. So they’re learning most from our example.

Instead of becoming upset when they don’t want to share, it’ll help to look at whether we’re happy to share the things we value. Do we loan out our car or our house unconditionally, meaning that, even if the other person breaks it, we’re not supposed to get upset?

Whatever we’re doing, our kids are going to use it as a model. For everything we tell them to do, they’re going to ask: “Why am I supposed to do this if you don’t?”

We can teach them to be smart.

By focusing on the cause-effect relationships of our kids’ actions, the consequences become their teacher. And they learn that their actions create results that they’re responsible for, and that energy set in motion comes back to them.

Experiencing first hand the connection between their choice of action and the results caused teaches them to make smart decisions. It also teaches them how to think rather than what they should think.

Consistency or flexibility?

Kids need to know that they can depend on us, so the rules shouldn’t change from moment to moment. At least, that’s what the parenting experts tell us. But most of us aren’t consistent, and neither is life. So we prepare our kids best by teaching them to be adaptable.

It’s also important for us to let ourselves off the hook if we’re inconsistent. When we forgive ourselves for sometimes breaking our own rules, and when we encourage and praise ourselves easily and consistently, those self-empowering qualities will be present in our parenting. And that will become the model for how our children will live, and how they’ll parent their children.

Helping them feel responsible puts them way ahead.

If we believe that people have the power to make us angry or sad, that they can offend or betray us and make our lives miserable – or that they can make us happy and make our lives fun and fulfilling – we’ll teach our kids to give their power away, like we have.

No one else is making us feel or think or act as we do. And helping our kids to realize that gives them a tremendous head start.

So let’s not teach our kids that their peers – either the cutest boy or girl in the class, or the bullies – control their feelings or their actions. Better to teach them to feel good anyway, about themselves, no matter what’s happening.

Life will get messy, always. And it’s our job to help our kids know how to manage it without taking it personally.

Reclaiming our true power means saying, “It’s not your responsibility whether I feel happy or angry. So you’re off the hook.” And imagine the example we’ll set for our kids by showing them that we’re responsible for whether we choose a healthy response.

When we’re confident, they’re confident.

When people are reactive and unkind, they may believe that it’s appropriate, and even warranted, to behave that way. In other words, their beliefs justify their response.

“I’m a busy person with a lot of important things that need my attention. So much is expected of me that I don’t have time to take care of it all. And I’m always exhausted. So of course, I explode and lash out. I can’t help myself.”

It’s a pervasive attitude today. Let’s not buy into it. And let’s not sell it to our kids.

When we feel confident – when we feel all right about ourselves and other people and life, without needing anyone or anything to change for us – we can handle the challenges that come. We can choose a sensible response when the world is tough. And children who live with that model as they grow are fortunate.

Who they are is not what they do.

Teaching kids to love themselves has little to do with what they do – and everything to do with whether they see us loving ourselves and whether we send them a consistent message. “You’re great regardless of whether you behave or misbehave, succeed or not. That’s what you do. And what’s wonderful is who you are.”

Praising what they do works as long as they don’t hang their worth on it. If we say, “Good girl. Good boy. You’re wonderful because you did this thing,” we may teach them false value. And they may think, “If I don’t manage to accomplish things, I’m less worthy.”

When they misbehave, most important is to continue affirming them as individuals, while helping them understand why their actions are ineffective. “I love you, and what you just did didn’t seem to work, did it?”

If our kids are having trouble with self-love, they may be using false evidence to determine whether they measure up. “I can’t love myself because I do this, and this, and this.”

By helping them separate who they are from what they do, they’ll naturally find themselves lovable.

Nothing teaches love like loving ourselves.

As we love ourselves, we’ll be able to stay loving to our children, no matter what they do. And we’ll naturally feel inspired toward what will work for them, in order to prepare them for life.

Isn’t that what parenting’s about? To help our kids feel good about themselves no matter what they do – to feel right rather than wrong, even when they make mistakes. It’s about giving them the tools to feel safe and loved, always.

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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project and HuffPost