According to counselor and Positive Discipline Trainer Mike Brock, the number one question people want to ask their parents is, “Do you really love me?” I’ve sat and listened to Mike deliver this message in person at the Positive Discipline Trainer’s Think Tank before. Mike explained that in his years of counseling people of all ages, this one question seems to weigh heavily in their minds.
I’ve also listened to Jane Nelsen speak on this topic. “We know we love our children, but do they know we really love them? ” Jane asks on one of her many audio recordings. In disapproving of a child’s behavior, sometimes we may also convey that we disapprove of the child. I love Positive Discipline tools because the tools all use respect (a component of love) to teach children what to do differently in the future. One of the big ideas in Positive Discipline is “make sure the message of love gets through.”
Many of us weren’t raised with examples of sending the message of love while our parents dealt with our behaviors. Including a message of love may even feel like soft or permissive parenting to some of you. For those of you learning Positive Discipline or just researching Positive Discipline may worry that the ideas are too loving. If you’re one of those people, know that Positive Discipline upholds the idea that parents be both kind and firm at the same time. So the idea of conveying unconditional love is harnessed together with tools that are firm and also tools that really teach your child important life skills. Children usually don’t feel loved from parents who never set limits or let kids do anything the kids want to do. Firmness is definitely a part of love too.
Positive Discipline Tools for Conveying Unconditional Love
Although all of the Positive Discipline tools include mutual respect and the idea of staying emotionally connected with your child (the kindness part), here I’ll list a few of my favorites ones for conveying unconditional love:
- Special Time – Spend one-on-one time with your child each week. For young children, this may be 30 minutes each day and this can be a part of the bedtime routine each night. For elementary aged children and middle schoolers, plan a time of 45 minutes to an hour each week (every Saturday morning for example) that you dedicate to spending one on one time with your child. This is also the same recommendation for high school children, but personally I’ve found it a little more difficult to keep a schedule for this and we fit it in whenever we can. During this time, simply have fun with your child and avoid talking about grades, misbehavior, etc.
- Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn – When your child makes a mistake, by misbehaving, tell your child that everyone makes mistakes. This acceptance of your child as a wonderful, yet imperfect individual sends a big time message that you love your child no matter what they do or how imperfect they are. (I also suggest that you take this attitude towards yourself to show yourself unconditional love and self-compassion when you make mistakes.)
- Connection Before Correction – When you approach your child, do you start by talking immediately about the mess your child left on the kitchen counter? What if you connected first and then asked your child to clean up the mess? There are many ways to connect first. You could ask your child how he or she is feeling? You could give a hug or high five. You could call your child one of the positive cute names you’ve created for them. The possibilities are endless, but I’m pretty sure you’d like someone else to connect with you before they “correct” you.
In my experience, when someone expresses unconditional love to me while they discuss a mistake I made, then I genuinely want to do better. Traditional discipline works from a basis of fear while Positive Discipline focuses on mutual respect, and unconditional love. This idea that we can express love to our children while at the same time teaching them responsibility, accountability and how to make up for their mistakes is new to many people. Also it might be a scary step for you to take. Here are a few ideas to remember when struggling with conveying unconditional love:
- Wait until you’ve calmed down before you talk to you child about the behavior.
- Focus on the long term goal or the life skill you want your child to learn so that he or she can be more successful in the future.
- If you calm down, but then get triggered again while talking to your child, excuse yourself to go calm down again before continuing the conversation with your child.
- Get on eye level with your child to talk to him or her. Squat, sit or do what is necessary to look your child in the eye instead of looking down at your child.
- Work on your belief that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.
Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer