When a child (or adult) does something we don’t like or understand, there’s a tendency for us to be critical. We say (either out loud or to ourselves) things like:
- “He talks too much.”
- “She’s too bossy.”
- “They’re obnoxious.”
- “He’s too needy.”
When we dislike or judge a behavior, it brings up feelings of irritation and embarrassment in us. And when we feel irritated, how do we react? By snapping at them, sighing, rolling our eyes, or at the very least pulling away from the interaction. In turn, the other person (whether child, teen, or adult) feels hurt and confused.
Instead of being critical of something we don’t understand, what if tried to be CURIOUS about it? Next time you notice yourself feeling annoyed about another’s behavior, ask yourself:
- “What are they getting out of this?”
- “What are they needing in this moment?” (Is to feel seen? Connected? Important?)
- “What are they feeling right now?”
- “Why am I feeling irritated/embarrassed/guilty about this behavior? What do I need?”
By asking yourself gentle questions such as these, you may come to realize that when your 8-year-old is talking too much, he’s excited about what he’s learned and wants to know that his interests are important to you. Or you may figure out that when your 10-year-old is behaving obnoxiously, it’s because she’s feeling insecure and wants to connect with you.
Being curious causes a total change in mindset. I’m not saying it’s an easy shift at all – in fact, it’s much easier to stay in the habit of criticizing and passing judgment than it is to strive toward acceptance. Curiosity admits that we don’t have all the answers and opens the door to a judgment-free mindset. It helps us respond in more empathetic, connected ways, which invites cooperation from the other person.
Even with non-judgment, boundaries are still sometimes needed. It’s okay to ask your kid to tone down the silliness, or to get some space if they’re needy. But boundaries will go MUCH more smoothly if we set them from a lens of compassion and non-judgement.