Little Ways You’re Judging Your Child’s Emotions

Do you act different when your kids throw a fit than when they’re happy and excited? Here’s how to avoid judging your child’s emotions.

Judging Your Child's EmotionsDo you love your kids unconditionally?

I thought I did. After all, I love mine regardless of the choices they make and celebrate who they are, in spite of their differences and similarities with me.

Isn’t that unconditional love?

I thought so. But then I realized they may not see it that way.

And it all started with the movie Frozen

Like any silly parent who thought her kid wouldn’t fall for Frozen-mania, I told my then-four-year-old, “Here’s the DVD of Frozen. Let’s watch it!”

And we did. But we also enforced a 30-minute limit on screen time on most days. And so, before Elsa could belt “Let It Go,” I pressed stop and smiled at my son. “Did you like it?”

“I want to watch more!” he bellowed.

“We can’t. We already watched 30 minutes of it. We’ll watch some more tomorrow.”

And the conversation kept bouncing between those two lines of “I want to watch more!” and “No, you can’t” before culminating in a tantrum—his and mine.

I felt furious.

Didn’t I warn him about the 30-minute rule? Didn’t I give him a heads up, both at 10 minutes and at 5 minutes? Why does he take something fun—and ruin it? Why can’t he appreciate that he even got to watch a movie at all?

When Your Child Ruins Everyone's Day

In a fit of rage, I carried him, plopped him in his room, and closed the door on him. Twice.

I ignored him, all his cries and everything. I then tried distracting him, which worked for six seconds before he roared up again.

And you know what finally calmed him down? Himself. I wasn’t even there for him, but the little guy managed to pull up a stool next to me in the kitchen and began cooking with me.

My heart crumbled. Because all that yelling and putting him in “time out” and ignoring him? The message I gave was: I withhold my love when you act that way.

How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids

It seems reasonable at times to react that way. We don’t want to “reward” bad behavior with hugs and kisses.

But emotions don’t always feel good, and the ones that don’t can feel scary and overwhelming to kids. They don’t like feeling bad. They can’t process these emotions, so they sometimes believe they’re bad because of it.

We act fine when they feel happy, but the minute they feel terrible, then game over. They think, “Mom smothers me with kisses when I feel happy or excited, but yells or ignores me when I feel sad or scared.”

We have to give our love unconditionally through all emotions—happy or sad, silly or angry.

This isn’t to say poor behavior is okay. If you have a 30-minute screen time rule, then your child has to abide by the rule, tantrum or not. He still need boundaries.

But more than anything, he needs you. The times you least feel like loving him is when he needs you the most.

How to Set Boundaries with Kids

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As Dr. Laura Markham writes in her book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting 

“…[A]ll parents need to repeatedly reconnect with their children, just to repair the daily erosion created by life’s normal separations and distractions. Effective parenting is almost impossible until the positive connection with your child has been re-established, so think of this as preventive maintenance, before there’s a problem.”

Effective Parenting

You can address his emotions without giving in or rewarding poor behavior, all while connecting with him through all his emotions.

How about the times when he’s sad? Do you ignore him until he snaps out of it or wish his sadness away? Or how about when he’s clingy and attached—do you roll your eyes or get frustrated?

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Your Child's Emotions

That said, how can you discipline children without judging their emotions?

First, as we learned, don’t withhold your love when your child is upset or sad, only to pay him attention once he’s happy. Emotions simply are—some feel good while others don’t, but they don’t define who we are. They’re a state of being. Let him know you’re on his side through all his emotions.

Avoid trying to cheer him up right away, either. Tickling and making him laugh may not always be appropriate when he’s feeling down. Don’t distract him either—doing so diminishes his feelings and makes it seem like he should avoid them.

Discipline Children

Instead, show empathy for these emotions and relate what he must be feeling: “Looks like you’re upset because you want to watch more of the movie. Maybe you’re not sure whether you’ll get to watch the rest the next day.”

This doesn’t mean that he “gets away with it.” You’ll still want to hold fast to your rules, honor the impulse, and redirect him to a similar but more appropriate activity. You can also explain why he can’t do what he wants to do, so he understands you’re not being “mean” about it.

Redirecting Children's Behavior

Then, let him cry. I used to assume my job as a parent was to stop my kids from shedding tears and cheer them up quickly. Now, I treat crying as a therapeutic act. Crying—like laughing—is one of the best ways to release overwhelming feelings.

Why You Shouldn't Tell Kids to Stop Crying

Instead of telling him not to cry, be present for him. A few minutes of 100% devoted attention can make up for an hour’s worth of meltdowns.

Once he’s calm, discuss the emotions he felt. Explain that this happens to all of us, and that they come and go. Just as we have good days, we also have bad ones. Describe emotions as something he feels, not who he is as a person (for instance, he feels bad, but he isn’t a bad boy).

Bad Parenting Day

How do you know when your child needs you the most? Meltdowns, ignoring you, and feeling in a slump are cues that something is off. See those moments as opportunities, not hassles, to connect with him.

After all, we need to be there for our kids and stand in their corner—even when they’re throwing a fit about Frozen.

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