“It’s when children fall short and feel most incompetent that they most need our love- not our disappointment.”  – Alfie Kohn

How many of us had a parent, caregiver or person in authority say this classic line when we made a big mistake?

“I’m not angry, I’m DISAPPOINTED.”

Hearing this from someone we care about is like a punch in the gut.

Anger fades- but disappointment lingers.

I think parents say this for a few reasons.

Parents consciously or unconsciously want a child to feel bad so that they don’t make the same mistake again. (Punishment lite!)

Parents think that somehow, disappointment is less harsh than anger.

This is the thing though: being disappointed in a child is like saying, “I think less of you when you do this thing.”

Our love, affection and approval of our child should not be contingent on their actions or behaviour.

We might not be happy about something they’ve said or done.

At the same time, we can always try to assume positive intent… or recognize that they are immature and still learning… or remind ourselves that there is often an unmet need driving challenging behaviour. 

Kids are doing the best they can!

When we are disappointed, they feel unworthy and unlovable. The person they love most in the world thinks they are bad. This is shame. 

Children need to know that we love and approve of them EVEN THOUGH they did the thing we don’t like. 

Does that “even though” sound familiar to you?

Hint: If you’ve been following my work for a while, you’ll recognize it. When we mess up as parents, I always say that we need to give ourselves compassion. 

So many of you are so hard on yourselves when you mess up!

Yes, you messed up AND you are loveable and worthy EVEN THOUGH you messed up. Both of these things are true at the same time. 

We need to give ourselves and our children compassion, not only so that we all feel better and know we are good people- but so that we can do better in the future.

Shame makes us act WORSE.

Shame activates our nervous system, sending us into the dysregulated state of Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

And further, when we feel like bad people, we act like bad people.

We, and our children, are much more reactive and easily dysregulated when we feel shame when we mess up. This is the root of the behaviour we’d like to see less of!

Let’s stop shaming (“I’m so disappointed!”) kids for being normal humans who make mistakes.

Let’s create an environment where mistakes are normalized.

Let’s explicitly tell our kids (and ourselves!) that even though they made a mistake, they are still worthy and loveable.

If we can do this- they will know that they are worthy and loveable even though they made a mistake. They will know we love and accept them unconditionally. 

It is ESPECIALLY when they mess up that they need our love and support- not our disappointment.

And when they are grown-ups? They won’t have to work so hard to have compassion for themselves when they mess up.

Because they learned this from YOU.

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