I had an incident with my eldest son several weeks ago that led me to think about how I label and assign roles to my children based on their temperament, characteristics and what feelings they provoke in me based on my own personal challenges.
I got a call from the school principle to pick him up because he ruined school property (pulled papers off the school bulletin board – I know an egregious federal offense). The principle claimed that he participated in the destruction and then didn’t take responsibility for it when she questioned him.
It was my son’s birthday and I was so frustrated and sad that this happen on what was supposed to be his special day. I was irritated that I had to be distracted from accomplishing what I needed to and that he was the cause of it. I instantaneously felt angry at him for not using better judgment and being impulsive which got himself into this predicament.
I thought that it wasn’t just a reflection on him but on me as well. I was concerned what people might think about him and me. I questioned whether I was spending enough time at home and if it was negatively impacting him, whether I was doing a good enough job at teaching him good values and what the other students and his teachers might think and feel about him and his behavior based on this being public knowledge. I worried whether he was developing a negative reputation which would further impact on how people perceived and reacted to him. It prompted me to call one of my closest friends. I cursed, screamed and ranted about my son, the infamous bulletin board criminal.
After going through my tantrum, I purposefully got to a mindful place and made it a point to approach him lovingly and compassionately. I decided I wanted and needed to hear his side of the story and if I behaved like a raving lunatic he would be less likely to express himself and open up to me about his thoughts and feelings. I also figured that up to that point he had been punished enough (for now) and I wanted to understand him better, give him feedback about his behavior and be there for him emotionally.
I recognized that approaching him with acceptance and empathy was in line with my values and integrity and how I would want to act. I also realized that a gentle approach would facilitate him being more open to consider his behavior rather than belittling and criticizing him for his poor judgment and decision making.
I find that I am always looking for new ways to view my children because when they act out I automatically go to the place of judging them, judging myself and feeling shameful and guilty. I realize that I’m inclined to react aggressively and that I’m evaluating them in a considerably harsh way. I have learned several things from my training and experience that have been so incredibly helpful to me. For one, I choose how I want to view them and how I prefer to act on behalf of my view of them.
I recognize that if I view them in a negatively critical way, I’ll inevitably treat them harshly and aggressively. Also, if I treat them in the way I directly perceive them then they are more inclined to behave that way because that’s what is expected of them and that’s what they learn to expect from themselves. A vicious cycle gets created and perpetuated!
I am pretty aware of how I label each one of my children and am conscious of how I prefer to see them and expand that label to be more positive, caring and empathetic. The label is a part of them, not all encompassing and represents all of who they are. When the behavior shows its eerie face, it takes effort to consider viewing them differently. I also don’t necessary feel compelled to be compassionate, loving or thoughtful in those moments. I choose to be. I try to prepare so when those moments arise, I’ll be fully prepared.
In an effort to facilitate parenting mindfully, I encourage you to think about what labels and roles you assign to each of your children. Reflect on what your outlook is about their behavior and what your expectations are in regard to their behavior. Evaluate whether they tend to exceed expectations, meet them or fall short of them and think about how often you find yourself being in that state of disappointment and frustration with them.
Consider these alternative ways of viewing them:
Instead of labeling them as being: dramatic/hyper-sensitive/“too” sensitive ->
Consider them as: deeply emotional human beings
Instead of labeling them as: stubborn ->
Consider them as: having personal opinions & being expressive and in touch with his/her needs
Instead of labeling them as: argumentative ->
Consider them as: expressive/assertive
Instead of labeling them as: withholding ->
Consider them as: wanting to maintain boundaries, appreciates privacy
Instead of labeling them as: (“too”) intense ->
Consider them as: passionate
When their behavior provokes those labels, consider the alternative and acting on behalf of seeing them in that generously empowering way. You’ll inevitably be more open to them and treat them with more empathy and generosity.
I am so appreciative that I took a mindful approach with my son. Off the bat there wasn’t any room to see him differently. I purposefully challenged that idea and gave him the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad I did! It turned out that there was video footage that vindicated my son from the “crime.” He didn’t directly take action but was a bystander and took responsibility for that.
The principle apologized. I suggested that she reconsider the way in which the school disciplines children. The message to me was if we shame our children then they will remember it better and think twice about their behavior and not repeat it. That approach is antiquated and counterproductive. They think twice when they get to reflect, understand what compelled them to behave the way in which they did and problem solve better ways of coping in the future.
If we’re trying to foster positive self-esteem, self-compassion, independence and good values, we need to teach children those skills. Criminalizing, shaming and providing negative reinforcement doesn’t help to foster those skills. I suggested community service, whereby he and his friend would need to build up the bulletin board on an as needed basis and give back to the community something they have taken away and might not have been especially considerate of. To me that is more in line with teaching those fundamental values.