A gift from you to your children this holiday season!
You bought a special box of holiday cookies for the whole family. You see that many are missing when you take it out to share with everyone. So you ask your daughter what happened to the cookies and she denies knowing anything about them. But the crumbs on her shirt say otherwise. You are angered, thinking, “She just ate it! She’s lying! Does she think I don’t know?”
The missing cookies are the least of your problems; you are now concerned about the morality and integrity you were expecting to see in your child. You feel a sense of failure as a parent. To eliminate this unease, you are desperate to teach your child the right behavior, and you proceed to lecture your child. As a result, your child feels disconnected.
If any of this resonates with you, causing you to wonder ‘what should I do instead,’ I would ask you to consider a two-step strategy called accept and reframe. In general, you should use this strategy only when you are feeling in control or, in other words, your trigger meter is not at its maximum.* This is an effective strategy that can help during problematic struggles. Implementing this strategy is not easy, and I will share why it is not easy later. In any case, this strategy can help you regulate yourself, and it provides an opportunity for connection.
To implement the accept and reframe strategy, you first want to accept your own feelings about the event. Then you might want to try reframing all the negative ideas flooding your mind about your child with generous ones. For instance, in the example above, you might accept what just happened by saying to yourself, ‘I feel disappointed that my daughter ate the cookies and did not admit it.’ As soon as you accept what you are feeling, you will likely regain more control over yourself because you start feeling seen and heard by yourself.
This is when you can move into the second step of using generous reframing, and you might think, ‘It’s possible that my child was probably too tempted and couldn’t wait, so she ate it. She probably realizes that it was not the right thing to do and is afraid to admit it. She knows it would upset me and doesn’t want to lose face in front of me, so she lied.’
Once you have an internal dialogue with a generous reframing of the situation, you start to experience a shift from feeling bitter to feeling more optimistic. In an optimistic frame, you can get creative about how you want to react to this situation. Using play and humor is usually very effective in these situations.
You might say jokingly, ‘Oh no! There’s a cookie monster that lives in our pantry and is gobbling up our cookies! Let us all finish the rest before he gets to it.’ This strategy helps lighten the mood and doesn’t make the child feel blamed or ashamed for his or her actions. For closure on the matter, you can bring it up, empathize with your child, acknowledge what she might already be feeling, and share your own feelings. It’s important to ensure that your words do not induce guilt or shame. These interactions with our kids must keep their self-esteem intact.
This strategy is not easy to implement, particularly for those who grew up facing harsh consequences for undesirable actions. For many, it is hard to believe that such behaviors can be curbed without providing a harsh consequence. The idea of implementing this strategy also might invoke feelings of being a permissive parent who is spoiling their child.
The truth, however, is that the way to ensure that children grow up with high self-esteem and exhibit values such as honesty and integrity depends on their connection with us. Kids must feel that their parents accept them unconditionally, even when they do not behave as expected.
According to a 2018 article published by Newport Academy, a teen and adolescent mental health treatment center, children who feel unconditionally loved grow up to be morally strong, resilient, curious, and compassionate individuals. On the other hand, adults who have not received unconditional love as children are usually hard on themselves and find it difficult to forgive themselves for their mistakes or accept themselves as they are.
So this holiday season, when your child does something you do not like, give the gift of generous reframing and use this opportunity to connect with your child and reaffirm his or her faith in your unconditional love.
* Parent coaching can help increase your window of tolerance so you can access these strategies more frequently.
About the author: Namitha Raju is a Certified Master Parent Coach. She coaches parents in developing deep connection and peace in their relationships with their kids. Her company, Beautiful Bonds, is based on the principle that emotional growth, healthy relationships, and personal transformation are the keys to fulfilling parenthood. Dr. Raju received a Ph.D. in psychology and studied early development. As a mom of two kids, she found that her academic experience couldn’t rescue her from her day-to-day parenting challenges. Her curiosity led her to garner the expertise necessary to inculcate deep connections between parent and child. She serves parents virtually throughout the U.S. If you would like to find out more, please visit https://beautifulbonds.me.