“Dr. Laura — I came across your website a month ago and have been trying to follow the advice in your emails. I am amazed at the difference in my children in just this short time. Mostly, I try to just stop when I get upset and see things from their point of view. Thank you for helping us stay on track!” — Madeleine
Seeing things from your child’s point of view can change everything. First, your child feels more understood and connected, which makes her more cooperative. Second, since you see why she’s acting out, you’re more patient, so you can de-escalate the drama.
But this simple practice is powerful for an even more important reason. When you see what’s getting in the way for your child, you can give him the support he needs to feel, and act, better. That nips problem behavior in the bud, because you solve the root of the behavior — the feelings driving it.
Consider a plant that looks droopy. Do you yell at it to “Straighten up and grow right!”? Or do you figure out what it needs: more water, more sun, a bigger pot? Kids, like the rest of us, are just trying to get their needs met, and all of their behavior — just like all adult behavior — arises from the child trying to make herself feel better.
The child’s strategies to feel better often don’t work, of course. For instance, hitting her little brother because she worries that you love him more will always backfire. But notice that for a child who isn’t feeling noticed and valued, the big energy you suddenly direct her way when she hits her brother can still be reassuring. (Kids are like geiger counters for big energy. To them, it proves we care.)
Of course, if you can see her need for reassurance that you still adore her, you can demonstrate through your actions that no matter how much love you give her brother, there will always be more than enough love and attention for her. She will come to believe that you could never love anyone more than you love her, and the hitting will stop. But the only way you can address the needs driving her behavior is to see things from her perspective.
Want to try an experiment? It takes 30 days to create a new habit. If you start today, and keep trying to do this every day (don’t worry; you don’t have to do it perfectly) your parenting will be different by the end of the year. And I guarantee you will see a corresponding change in your child. Think of this as love in action.
Here’s the experiment.
1. Really notice and acknowledge your child as often as possible. Often we’re so busy pushing our child through the schedule that we forget to slow down and notice him. Verbally describe your child’s activities, preferences and comments without judgment. “I notice you’re using a lot of blue in your painting today….You really love that breakfast cereal….You like to have a warning before we go somewhere…. I notice you’re starting to put your face in the water a little bit…You’ve been working on building that tower for a long time.” Children have a core need to be “seen” and valued, just for being themselves. This also goes a long way toward meeting their need to feel connected to us.
2. Make sure you connect warmly, physically with each child, every day, for some snuggle time. This is indispensable. If your kid is “too old” to snuggle, give him a foot rub or back rub, and as many hugs as he’ll let you.
3. Consider things from your child’s perspective. Why is she acting out this way? What does she need?
- More down time?
- More connection with you?
- More of a sense of independence and mastery?
- More “structure” from you to help her learn to handle something herself?
Meeting the need is the only way to change the behavior. If a hurt has been done, tell your child that he needs to think of a way to repair that relationship, but resist the urge to punish. Punishment (including “consequences” that you impose) will just create resentment and thus more bad behavior of some kind.
4. Whenever you start to get upset, STOP. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that there’s no emergency. Sure, you could have your own tantrum and yell and scream. You’re perfectly justified. But consider that plant. Will yelling at it help? With your child, shouting sabotages all your attempts to build a good relationship. You don’t have to respond right this moment, except if safety is at stake. Wait until you calm down. No matter how old your child is, your message will be more effective when you’re calm.
5. If you’re setting a limit, offer understanding: “That looks like you’re having so much fun. And toys are not for throwing. If you want to throw, you can take a ball outside.” Notice that you can still set limits, and you should. Yes, even when you see your child’s perspective, which is that they are upset about your limit! The difference here is that you acknowledge their upset, even while you hold your limit. You don’t get defensive, and you don’t back down. You just let them know you understand. It’s amazing what a difference that makes.
6. Focus on the positive. Kids respond to our energy, so be passionate with your YES! to everything you want to see more of from your child. Every time you appreciate your child, every time you love something about him, you’re giving him the clear message: More of this, please. He will grow accordingly.
That’s the experiment. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Just keep increasing the ratio of moments when you see things from your child’s perspective. Expect to have some bad days. Forgive yourself and try again.
Remember, “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” (James A. Michener.)
Give this experiment a try for 30 days. You’ll be amazed by the miracle you make.