This is as good a time of year as any to consider if you have any habits that are worthy of changing. I would like to nominate a habit that most of us have in our thinking. It arises after someone else does something other than what we wanted them to do when our mind goes to a variety of options all related to judging the other person as bad or wrong or worthy of punishment. Sometimes these thoughts don’t rise to the level of consciousness but they nonetheless fuel words and actions. And this sort of judging can happen in regard to other adults or to our own beloved children.
I think it is based on an ancient tendency in thinking that says “if things don’t go the way they are supposed to, if things don’t go the way I want, then it is somebody’s fault and they have to pay somehow.”
For this post I will try to stick with adult/child interactions, but feel free to extrapolate to all your relations and interactions.
Let’s use an example for dissection purposes. Your child takes a toy from their sibling, or some other child. The other child had been playing with the toy and your child went over, took hold of the toy, and tugged. When they got the toy from the other child they walked away smiling. The other child? Not so happy.
So what happens? What happens first of all inside you? Likely you think thoughts such as: “That was wrong.” “That was bad.” “That was not appropriate.” “They shouldn’t have,” and so on…. This is Level One punishment. It is in the realm of thinking. Then you open your mouth and scolding words such as the things you had just been thinking enter the environment. This scolding is Level Two. Level Two may also include you saying such things as, “How would you like it if they did that to you?”
Level Three can go two ways. One version of Level Three is called ‘Time Out.’ It is really code for ‘punishment.’ “You have done something wrong, and now you have to go away from everyone and be by yourself.” (sometimes ‘Time Out’ can be used to create a much-needed break from interactions but is rarely used as such) The other way of Level Three is hitting, spanking, slapping, etc….all varieties of corporal punishment.
The thing is, all three levels are punishment. As soon as we begin on the path of negatively judging we have entered the realm of punishment. So, the grand ancient and deeply ingrained habit I am suggesting you consider changing is thinking judgmental thoughts, and it is not an easy feat to change this habit. But I am going to offer you three short thoughts that can help you begin to break this habit, a habit that damages connection and offers little chance of learning for both parties involved.
1. Everybody has needs and wants. Everybody! And starting when we are quite little we begin to attempt to get what we need and want. These attempts are based partly on imitation of those around us, and partly on trial and error. We see the techniques others use to get what they need and want and we copy and adapt those. If those techniques work to get us what we need and want, we keep doing them and those become our habits. So, it starts out as a strategy for attaining something, and then this repeating strategy becomes our habit. Perhaps the child who takes from the other child has the habit of taking. This habit was learned, and conditioned by experiences. This habit was solidified through interactions with you. It is a dynamic between you and your child. They continue to do the habit (of taking) because it works. Get it?
2. What if, when your child does something other than what you wanted, you try and become aware of what is the truth for you in the experience? I’d like to suggest the obvious and that is…if your child does other than what you want, your experience is the simple feeling of “I don’t like this.” That is not a judgement of right and wrong, good or bad, etc….it is simply what you are feeling.
3. Empathy means trying to walk in another’s shoes, trying to experience where their choices, actions, and words are coming from. “What lead this person to speak or act in this way?” Not to accept any and all behaviors out of empathy, but trying to understand another’s behaviors. This is empathy. Paired with compassion, empathy can be a guiding force towards changing our own habits. We can begin to experience the effects on others of our habits of judging, of seeking fault, and assessing punishment. And perhaps that can be a stimulus for our own change!
The time is right now for taking hold of ourselves and manifesting change. Only you can change you (by the way, you can’t change anyone other than you). What are you waiting for?
As I mentioned, this is no easy road, but the rewards of changing this habit of thought are enhanced connection with those you love, and less stress and anxiety in your own life. It is worth the effort.
Beyond Sticks and Carrots - True Connecting with the Young Child
Free Virtual Workshop with Steve
Saturday, January 23, 2021 at 10am California time
No preregistration - limited to first 100 participants
Here is the Zoom link. Simply log on for the event:
Meeting ID: 811 8229 4840