Catch Your Child Doing Something Right

By Dr. Laura Markham

“If all you did was just look for things to appreciate, you would live a joyous, spectacular life.” – Esther Hicks

You could probably find negative things to say to your child all day long. All of them “deserved” and none of them effective in helping your child want to cooperate.

“Aren’t you ready yet?…. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t on your shoulders…. How many times have I told you?…. Pick up your things… Stop that right now… You’re wearing me out…. Don’t start with me…. Leave your sister alone… Are you listening to me?… I  said NOW!… What part of No don’t you understand?”

This critical voice comes from fear. That may seem odd, since what you probably feel when you criticise is frustration or annoyance. But it does come from fear, meaning fear that your child isn’t growing up okay, or won’t turn out okay, because either you or your child isn’t good enough. That’s your inner critic talking. Its job is to keep you on your toes, fending off any possible bad outcomes. Unfortunately, happiness is not in its job description. And regardless of what your inner critic tells you, it isn’t always right. Either about the ultimate outcome, or about what you should do right now.

So when you open your mouth to criticise, take a deep breath and reassure yourself: “He’s acting like a kid because he IS a kid”. Then, start over. Find a way to say what you need from your child, but with understanding or encouragement.

No matter what your child does, you have a choice about how you react. I know you’re not a saint. No parent is, and no parent is empathic all the time. But when we pay attention, we usually find we can eliminate much of the drama and upset in our homes just by managing our own emotions. 

So when you open your mouth to criticise, take a deep breath and reassure yourself: “He’s acting like a kid because he IS a kid”. 

Even better? Our child gives us the benefit of the doubt on those less frequent occasions when we do get upset.

Here’s the news blast. Finding fault with kids doesn’t help them change. (Not surprising, really. Does it help you change?!).

Children, like other humans, grow and change when they feel loved, accepted, appreciated, respected. That lets them drop the need to defend themselves. It makes them want to cooperate. It allows them to learn and grow!

So if you want your child to be her best self, catch her doing things right all day long — including all those things that you think it’s about time she did right!

  •  Notice all progress in the right direction, even if it isn’t perfect. (“Thanks for picking up your things with only one reminder! I really appreciate how you got up and did it”).
  • Instead of evaluating her as a person (“You’re a good girl!”), say very specifically what you appreciate. (“I admire how you apologised to your friend. That took some courage”).
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