I was talking with a very frustrated Mom the other day about her 7 year old’s difficult behaviors. She seemed tired and intolerant of his every move and when I asked her about her disposition she said, “I feel bad saying this, but 90% of my interactions with my son are negative—he’s just so frustrating.” She clearly felt bad about how this dynamic was playing out between them, but also seemed unable to stop it. She explained to me that she was so worried about her son’s behaviors that she felt she had to ‘stay on him’ all the time to help him do better.
I told her that I understood her worries about her struggling child and appreciated her efforts with him, but also cautioned her that she needed to factor-in the toll that this dynamic was taking on both him and her, and also on their relationship. We ended up talking about the value of acceptance and how central it is to good relationships. We also discussed how starting with acceptance enables us to set expectations for our kids that are realistic, which lends greatly to the chance that they will also be successful.
Two Kinds of Acceptance
I think of acceptance as both an attitude and an action, meaning that it is both a way to orient to your child and also something you do with your child. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance preserves the parent-child relationship and shows your child that you hold positive regard for her or him, even when they are struggling.
A parent’s attitude of acceptance helps preserve the child’s self-esteem too. This is especially important for kids who struggle with self-control because they are prone to feeling bad about themselves, so knowing that someone accepts them for who they are—struggles and all—helps them retain acceptance of themselves.
Practice holding an attitude of acceptance with your child by following some of the suggestions below.
- Remind yourself that you love them no matter what difficulties they create.
- Remember that some of your child’s difficult traits i.e. stubbornness, will be great assets for them some day.
- Don’t let yourself over-focus on changing them, instead pick a behavior or two and work together on changing the behaviors.
- Create positive moments where you’re not teaching them something. Instead spend time enjoying your child.
- Notice the things they do right. Point out their successes and stop to note the many times when it doesn’t go wrong.
Acceptance is also an action. What I mean by this is that it’s something you can stop and do; it’s a choice you can make. We can’t take on or try to change all of our kids’ negative behaviors. We have to let some of them go. This is in part so they don’t feel like we’re nagging them all the time, but it’s also so we don’t get burned out and over-focused on the negative like the mom I mentioned earlier. So we must pick our battles. If you have a willful, reactive or rigid kid who brings a lot of battles to you then it’s especially important to choose which behaviors you are going to take on and which ones you’re gong to simply accept and let go. Remember, good parenting is not just working on negative behaviors; it’s also about maintaining balance, so it’s okay to let some behaviors go in the name of sanity. Practice the act of acceptance in some of the ways below.
- Separate the behaviors you can change from the ones you can’t. For example, behaviors that come from temperament i.e. activity level, focus, sensitivity etc., are not always possible to change because they are wired into the child’s nervous system.
- Set realistic expectations for behavior you want. Don’t go for too much change too quickly.
- When you face difficult behavior, stop and make a conscious decision about whether or not you’re going to address the behavior. Remember that ignoring some behaviors is the best strategy.
- Don’t feel guilty if you decide to let things go. Remember, there will be many other occasions to address and change behaviors.
- Pick a few behaviors to work on with your child and focus on those. Don’t try to change too much at once.
Keep in mind these ideas about the two kinds of acceptance and practice them with your child. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance, along with practicing the act of acceptance, will go a long way to preserve your relationship with your child. In addition, it will also help you set realistic expectations for both yourself and them, which is essential for creating behavior change and also preventing parent burnout.
My best to you and your family,
For more information on acceptance, see Chapter 1 in Noah’s book, Better Behavior: Helping Kids Create Change and Improve Relationships, available at Amazon.com.
Information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice for any specific medical or psychological condition.