When kids feel judged and evaluated by their parents, they are much more likely to look for acceptance from peers. Having a connection with peers is great, and yet we want our kids to get their values from us parents, to come to us when they are confused, sad, upset, to lean on us when they need comfort, and to celebrate their successes with us. If we want our kids to be honest with us, we need to show them that it’s safe, that we’re on their side, that we’re not judging or evaluating their thoughts or feelings.
We are all capable of having the full range of human feelings – from hatred and rage, to deep grief, to full aliveness and joy. If we were shamed or shut down with regard to any of our feelings while growing up, it might be difficult for us to see someone else expressing that same feeling. For example, if you were taught that you should never hate anyone, and maybe even shamed or punished for saying you hated someone, it might be very difficult for you if your child said, “I hate you.” You might very well want to respond with, “Don’t you ever speak to me like that again.” This response is totally understandable, and I know that many good parents have said this. However, it leaves the child alone with their feelings; still frustrated and upset about whatever made them feel that way in the first place. What if, instead, you responded by saying something like, “Wow, you must be really angry with me! Can you help me understand what I said or did that got you so mad?” Of course, even more important than the words is all the nonverbal communication. It won’t work if your tone is sarcastic or in any way ingenuous.
This means that as parents, we need to do our own inner work and healing in order to get to the place where we can truly accept and make room for whatever our child is feeling. It doesn’t mean that it’s okay for our child (or anyone else for that matter) to act out or be violent; just that their feelings are okay, and that they don’t have to feel them alone.
In the example above, suppose your child replied with something like, “You always let my sister do what she wants and you never let me do what I want. I really wanted to play my game.” Rather than getting defensive or justifying your reasons for not letting him play his game, you might first try on putting yourself in your child’s place. From there you might respond with something like, “I can really understand why you’d be so mad if you feel like your sister always gets to do what she wants and you never do! That would feel terrible.” Once your child feels understood and not all alone with his frustration, you can continue on with a conversation that he or she will most likely be much more open to. One more important thing is that in addition to really wanting to know how your child is feeling, see if you can match his or her energy. So, if he’s expressing anger or frustration, rather than responding with a calm, logical lecture voice, try responding with a lot of energy in your voice; not anger, but enough energy to match your child’s. This will also help your child feel met and understood.
If this type of parenting is of interest to you, I recommend reading anything on attachment-focused parenting by Daniel Hughes. Here’s a link to his books. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Daniel+Hughes&x=0&y=0