How can we replace conditional love with unconditional love?

loving our children Jul 29, 2022

When they do something positive,

1- Many times, we don’t need to say anything. Kids aren’t weak creatures who need accolades and praise any time they make good choices. They also don’t need “positive reinforcements” in forms of praise. That’s an outdated idea (research wise) and ideal to train animals to behave well (read Unit 14 for more on this).

2- To offer encouragement- we can use a sincere and normal tone of voice. Like I might say to you if you help me, “Thank you, that was helpful for me.”

If you’re out with your kids and they’re ‘behaving well’, parents like to say things like “you were such a good girl today!” Kids don’t need our constant judgement-neither good nor bad. Instead, try “I had a good time with you today.” “I really enjoyed myself today. Thank you for a fun time!”

3- If kids do something they’re excited to share with you, instead of “great job” “wow you’re amazing!” “Wow that’s a great painting!” (All generic praise- how does it feel constantly being told your work is ‘amazing’?). Try specific praise. “Looks like you worked hard at that!” “I like how you used green and blue here...” “I wonder what those wheels are for..” (showing genuine interest in the child’s work)

4- Instead of “I’m so proud of you...” Try “You’re really proud of yourself!!”

5- If they make good choices and are proud of them, instead of praise, bring their attention to how it feels to make good choices. “You shared your toy with your sister... I wonder how that felt in your heart...”

This kind of approach encourages kids to NOT become people pleasers, and instead demonstrates to them that making good choices in life is a gift in itself. And that intrinsic motivation instead of outside praise is what carries us through life.

When they do something that is unpleasant to us:

1- Don’t show disapproval with your tone and expressions- if you’re working on your emotional regulation that’s fine but showing disapproval for the sake of “discipline” is not needed or helpful. Do you need disapproval from your loved ones when you screw up? Different situations will need different responses from you.

A lot of parents feel like they need to make a stern face, glare harshly or at least, ignore the child for a bit “to show them what they did is wrong”. Two things:

  1. This assumes that when kids do something we don’t like, they’re INTENDING to BE “bad”. But there’s no such thing as a kid WANTING to be naughty. No one WANTS to be bad for the fun of it. They’re simply trying to get a need met like connection/attention. Yes, even when they smile or laugh after doing something- those are signs of testing behavior... “do you still love me if I do this?” Have you ever laughed or smiled when you were anxious about someone rejecting you? All you wanted was to check if they’re still happy with you. So smile back and say “I see you’re checking if I’ll be mad.. I’m always going to love you and I can’t let you do that.
  2. 99.9% when kids truly do something that’s not ok (like hitting, not sharing, throwing things etc.) they KNOW they’re wrong. Your disapproval simply says “I don’t love you when you’re not perfect.” Like I said, not helpful. When kids don’t know that their behavior is wrong or are having trouble behaving.. we can do some of the following.

2- Don’t fumble around for random “consequences”. They’re just a euphemism for punishments. Yes, not even “logical consequences” cuz again, the intention behind them is “when you do something I don’t like, I’ll teach you a lesson” whereas kids aren’t meaning or intending to thwart us.

Sometimes, there are “natural consequences”. For example, they throw a toy and it breaks. Or you take them to the store and they asked you a 100 times to get a toy. Next time you can skip taking them and gently say “I think you’re not ready for stores just yet.. we’ll try again in a few weeks.. I got really frustrated last time.” That’s your boundary. That’s always fine.

3- Provide information “These clothes are on the floor instead of the hamper.” “Your voice is a bit too loud right now.” “Those toys don’t belong here.”

4- Problem solve: “I’m worried that video games are taking up most of your time. I wonder what we can do so you still have time for other activities...”

5- Provide alternatives, “I can’t let you draw on the wall but here’s a paper...”

6- Offer your help and support and give space. Not every problem needs to be addressed instantly. “I see that you’re really upset right now. I’m going to stay here with you.”

7- Model being helpful, “I can pick up your toys for you right now... you look tired.”

8- Provide physical help: “Looks like you’re needing some help keeping your hands to yourself.. I’m just going to hold them until you feel better.”

9- Give gentle reminders: “Friendly reminder that the table still needs to be cleaned!”

10- Do or say nothing. Just like.. the many many times when WE screw up, we wish others would say or do nothing;)

Unconditional love is the only kind of love that makes the other person FEEL loved.

The other day I yelled at my son and then said “Oops... bad mama!” (Half jokingly) and my son said, “Mama, yelling doesn’t make anyone a bad person. You’re still awesome mama.”

That, friends, is unconditional love 💕