“He’s always doing this to me!” “She’s out to get me, knowing just how to push my buttons!” “Why does he have to behave this way?” Our chronically scheming child, coming up with endless strategies to manipulate his parents!

Is that what we really believe, that our child is manipulating us? How does he learn this behavior? Possibly he’s spending hours dreaming up devious ways to get what he wants (note: a child’s job is to get what he wants when he wants it).

If we react by humiliating and intimidating our children, we’re certainly not teaching them any helpful lessons. Discipline is about teaching, facilitating connection and understanding, rather than inflicting punishment and criticism. When children don’t feel heard, they need to find a way to let us know they’re struggling, that they’re having a problem. Is this really manipulation or simply an attempt to get their needs met, to be understood? It’s certainly not any different for adults, as we all want someone to hear and understand us when we’re having a problem.

As parents, our job is to accept our children exactly as they are. To do so means loving them unconditionally, even when they are behaving in unacceptable ways or following paths that are not what we would have chosen for them. Focusing on “this is who my child is; how can I help her?” helps us realize that each of our children comes into the world with his/her own unique temperament. As they develop and grow, a different perspective emerges. Behavior tells us whether our child is in balance or whether he’s struggling. Sometimes there’s not a good “fit” of temperaments between parent and child, making acceptance more challenging. If we have expectations that our children should behave a certain way, regardless of temperamental considerations, and that they should follow the dreams we have for their future, we’re not accepting them for who they are. Every child wants to be successful, ensuring approval from parents and other adults in his life.

Remember, behavior challenges and different interests are normal, an integral part of development. How we manage them, understanding this is not manipulation, will determine the outcome. This doesn’t mean allowing our children to do whatever they want and to behave in unacceptable ways. That said, connection happens when we listen to the emotions at the root of behavior to better understand that some need is being blocked. We must consider whether the environment is a good fit for our child’s temperament — trusting in our own and in his ability to master challenges with confidence.

Robert Brooks wrote: “The best time ... is more likely to occur when parents make a concerted effort to achieve a goodness-of-fit with their children and display acceptance and unconditional love. It can be very challenging for parents to modify the dreams and expectations they hold for their children. However, the benefits of doing so, of having our children feel genuinely loved and our experiencing ‘the best time’ with them, are well worth the effort.” When children feel unconditionally accepted, without judgment or blame, it’s far more likely they will talk openly. Listening without criticizing or shaming, without asking “why” questions, or without telling them what they should have done or said creates a safe environment in which connection can grow.

Here are some important lessons my own children taught me:
  • Always be present
  • Be authentic
  • Never model “Do as I say, not as I do!”
  • Be forgiving
  • Be playful with them
  • Keep a sense of humor
  • Be silly
  • Connect — listen, hear, understand
  • Don’t lecture, criticize, blame, or judge them
  • Take a “mental health” day with them (stay home in your pajamas, simply because you need a day to be together)
  • Don’t lie to them — be honest, even if you know it might hurt their feelings
  • Don’t “fix” things for them — their feelings are their own, even when they’re sad or in pain. Just listen and support them
  • Treat them as well as you treat your friends
  • Don’t embarrass them in front of their friends
  • Accept them for who they are; don’t try to change them into who you want them to be
  • Make time for just them, even when your schedule is busy
  • Be patient
  • Appreciate they also have limits
  • Allow for “do-overs”
  • Appreciate that their “plate” is just as full and as important to them as your full “plate” is to you
  • Give them LOTS of hugs
  • Accept them unconditionally
  • Love them unconditionally
Please Note: Winter Workshops — contact me for more information or to register.