Are Your Behavior Expectations too High?

Positive Discipline Unconditional love

It’s what everyone wants, and what parents hope to give their children.
But, how do we do that? Especially when most of us were raised to believe that we get love when we deserve it. Parenting books abound with advice that involves rewards for compliance, and negative consequences or punishment for misbehavior.

Yet, some of our own worst memories from childhood likely involved this approach…

being manipulated
yelled at
physically removed
spanked or hit
shamed verbally…
or worse.

Parents and teachers acted as though they saw right through us to our bad intentions, rather than trying to understand us. So we began to agree with them: we were bad when we disappointed authorities.

Shame began to shape our personalities and resulted in perfectionism, people-pleasing, or rebellion.

Yet, we were only human, only kids-trying-to-grow-up.

If we want to love our kids unconditionally, we will need to try to think from our kids’ perspectives, as we wish someone had done for us in our most challenging moments. Positive discipline isn’t as hard as it sounds, because we are more like our children than we imagine.

I’d like to share five questions that, when I ask them to myself, give me the empathic understanding to stay in the mindset of unconditional love.

Do parents say “yes” to requests?

Adults say no in many different adult ways. Sometimes we say yes, and then just don’t do what we said yes to. If I’m in the middle of writing, I often say yes to requests from my family, but sometimes, I just keep writing–just because I want to write. (Sounds kind of childish, huh?).

Another way adults say no is to feign forgetting to do that thing, or do it, but not well; few will fess up to that, but it happens. And for the more mature among us, we simply say, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that right now.” Whether it is the request to help someone move, or to bake a cake for the bake sale, or to have sex on the roof, no adult says yes all the time. We’d think they had issues if they did, wouldn’t we?

When it comes to our kids, we worry or get angry when they say no. A child’s yes is like another badge on our Good Parent uniform; a no affects our sense of efficacy. But the power to say no and have it be heard is an important part of kids’ development into whole adults who know where they end and others begin.

Some people says no half the time when we make requests.

I expect this.

In a positive discipline fashion, I usually listen to his response and accept it, or discuss his reasons with him, unless it has to do with health or safety. But I keep making those same requests on other occasions (“Bring your plate to the table, please” or “Will you help me fold clothes?”),

so that he understands my expectations. And, as an aside, when I make the request fun and relational, it is more likely to happen (as in “Let’s do this together!”). When he does say yes, I can see that he is beginning to trust that what I expect of him is good in some way. Over time, the yes will be as natural for him as it is for me when my husband asks me to help him.

But some people will also know how to say no when the request doesn’t feel comfortable. That is crucial, especially as they grows into the tween and teen years when his peers will make requests, too. That “no,” spoken to his peers, will then sound like successful parenting.

Do I ever procrastinate when I don’t want to do something?

At our house, “Time to get ready to gob!” means an urge to add another detail to that train the child is drawing, or a sudden fascination with a new library book. When we forget to add extra time to the getting ready process, we can end up barking orders and hovering, as a feeling of powerlessness creeps into our stressed psyches.

But I have noticed that we adults in the house procrastinate as well. Some families have still not gotten together all the paperwork for tax filing; nor have we called our insurance company about the fact they didn’t pay up. We also put off certain chores, like cleaning the cat litter boxes and vacuuming. What do you procrastinate doing?

Think of that, when your child stalls the inevitable, doesn’t want to stop playing, or takes an hour to get ready. Structure your time to plan for the slowness of childhood.

Do I respond the first time with complete understanding and immediate change when someone asks me to do something differently?

Growing up, many of us heard “I have told you five times now, to….[fill in the blank],” as though somehow with each repetition, we were that much more culpable. But in our own house, we adults need to hear things more than once, as well.

But, with children, we parents often expect them to understand and comply with our teaching, corrections or requests immediately. We assume they have an oppositional attitude if we have to repeat something. Go zen about repetition.

We all need it when we have to change something in our habits, understand something new, or do something we’d rather not.

Whining is complaining without power. Adults whine about the traffic, waiting in line at the drive-thru, our sex lives, or the fact that it is 6 am and we are out of real coffee–anything where we want something and can’t get it.

Kids have a lot of wants and a lot of can’t-gets, too; probably more than adults.

What do you as an adult prefer as a response when you start to whine? Your spouse or friend telling you they won’t respond until you speak in an adult manner? Probably not. You’d probably like empathy, as I would, and a listening ear. When kids can’t make their lives go like they want, like staying longer at a play date, they are understandably going to complain or whine.

Finding comfort in your own voice tone and a name for their feelings– “Wow, I can imagine you’re feeling disappointed now since you were having such a great time,” –may be all they need to move on with a different attitude.

Do I ever have insomnia?

Prior to the age of 5, my son, Micah, usually woke up during the night. And when he was up, it was for a couple of hours. My husband would get up with him some nights, and I would others. We were usually patient. But I got to the point where I was thinking blamefully toward my little boy.

One night, I blurted out, “Why are you doing this?” My son’s face crumpled, and thankfully, my husband was there to cuddle and hold him and speak gently. I apologized, and went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep for the weight of my own words.

When my son had long ago started sleeping through most nights, it occurred to me that I could not control my own now chronic insomnia. I could not make myself fall asleep; all I could do was stare into the dark or get up. Hmmm…could this be what my little boy experienced all those years, as well? It wasn’t that he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to. He had a sleep disorder similar to my own, and he required compassion because he had fewer emotional and cognitive resources to cope with it.

Now, on the rare occasions that my son does wake up, I have a new way to empathize with his plight. I can’t “sleep through the night” either. It is interesting how we expect children to follow some sort of timetable for development with regard to sleep, when sleep eludes so many of us as we get older.

No one parents perfectly, no matter what questions we ask ourselves. But giving our kids the same slack we give ourselves will go a long way toward our children feeling that it’s okay to be human, just like it is for us parents. And that’s unconditional love.


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