A way to more understanding, empathy and compassion for our child

Do you notice that you have negative judgements about your child pop up in challenging parenting situations, such as when you are trying to engage their cooperation and they aren’t having a bar of it? Or when they are doing something that bothers you and they refuse to stop?

They might be judgements about the character of your child, or what it feels to you like they are wanting or trying to do in relation to you.

It might be something like:

“She doesn’t care (about me)”

“He’s doing it on purpose”

“She’s so self-centred”

“He’s trying to annoy me”

“She’s so lazy”

“He’s so rude”

“She’s such a spoiled brat”

“He wants to hurt me”

“She’s deliberately ignoring me”

“He’s so entitled”

“She has to have it her way”

“He’s giving me a hard time”

“She’s trying to push my buttons”

“He likes being grumpy”

“She wants to fight with me”

“He’s just being difficult”

You might find yourself thinking these things, or they even might pop out of your mouth in the heat of the moment.


Mother and son after quarrel
Image designed by Bearfotos / Freepik

👉 When we think and speak in this way, it often fuels our uncomfortable emotions, making us feel annoyed, frustrated, angry, sad or even hurt by our child’s behaviour.

👉 And when we feel this way, it can make it more likely that we will respond harshly to our child, perhaps raising our voice, making threats, or punishing.

Can you relate?

It’s likely that these judgements reflect some of the beliefs about children that abound in our society, that we have inadvertently absorbed. They are usually based on the idea that children “should” behave in a certain way.

The particular phrases that pop up for us often tap into hurt feelings that we are still carrying from our own childhood. Sometimes these same phrases might have been said to us, and the resulting sadness or anger might still be lingering in our bodies.

These judgements can also be seen as an indication of our own general emotional climate. They are often a sign that we are feeling low on resources; that we are tired, stressed, unwell, or have our own uncomfortable feelings or other unmet needs.

And if we dig beneath the judgements, we can usually identify the feelings and needs that are present for us in the situation. Perhaps we are feeling frustrated or annoyed by our child’s behaviour, and would really like ease, peace, respect, to be heard and to matter.

👉 What these judgements don’t take into consideration, is what the child’s actual feelings or needs might be in the situation.

👉 In a way, while these judgements appear to be about the child, they are actually all about US, OUR beliefs and OUR feelings.

As a first step towards doing things differently, it can really help for us to become more aware of the judgements of our child that come up for us, and recognise that they are not a true reflection of our child at all. We all have these judgements pop up, so it can be helpful to acknowledge that, and give ourselves empathy and compassion.

It can also really help to explore the likely REAL reasons for our child’s “misbehaviour”, to try to guess what their feelings and needs might be in that situation. (My next post will give some suggestions for possibilities to explore when trying to understand our child’s lack of cooperation.)

Something else we can do in the meantime, when we notice the negative judgements coming up, is to pause and repeat to ourselves a key ANTIDOTE PHRASE. This is a phrase that we can replace or counter the charged judgemental phrase with, something that is more empathic, compassionate, and TRUE!

And it can help us to reconnect with our intention to respond to our child with understanding and support, and to feel more empathy, compassion and love for our child in challenging moments. It’s best that it’s something simple and easy to remember, like:

“He’s having a hard time”

“She has some big feelings”

“He’s doing the best he can”

“She needs my support”

“There is a reason he’s acting this way”

“Behaviour is communication”

“How can I be most loving?”

We can choose one that resonates most with us, and try to repeat it each time we notice ourselves getting judgemental or irritated. You might want to put up a little note in the place that you spend the most time with your child, as a reminder. Or ask your spouse to remind you very gently if they notice you getting annoyed.


Mum and son reconnecting
Image designed by Bearfotos / Freepik

Do you have a favourite ANTIDOTE phrase? Something that you’ve found helpful to remind yourself of when you’re starting to feel triggered? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share below.


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