"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom."
"Where there is great love, there are always miracles."
I know, you never actually stop loving your child, even when she acts like a monster
and you can't stand being with her another minute. But unfortunately, the love
you feel isn't the most important factor in your child's emotional development.
The most important factor is whether your child feels loved, unconditionally.
Even when she's acting like a monster! Does she know that she's lovable, exactly
as she is? That she isn't expected to be perfect? That her anger, disappointment,
frustration and sadness are just part of being human, and that she can count on
you to help her learn to manage those feelings so she doesn't have to act on them?
You may be wondering how you teach your child those things. The answer is easy,
but oh so difficult. You love him unconditionally. Even -- especially -- when he's
driving you crazy.
Why? Because your child knows you love him when he's being sweet, generous, obedient.
He's not so sure you love him when he's feeling angry, or jealous, or greedy. When
he acts like a monster, he's afraid he IS a monster. But when you:
- Can stay lovingly connected to him even as you set limits on his behavior ....He
learns that he's not a bad person, just human.
- Can resist lashing out at him even when you're "justifiably" angry....He learns
from your modeling how to regulate his emotions.
- Can remember to empathize as you set limits, so he WANTS to follow them.....He
- Can accept that he's an immature human who naturally makes mistakes.....He learns
that mistakes are part of growing, and what matters is noticing, repairing, and
planning ahead to avoid the mistake next time.
- Can love him through his upsets....He learns that feelings are manageable, not
dangerous, and that he's ok, complete with all those inconvenient feelings. It's
that self-acceptance that helps him manage those feelings so he doesn't have to
act them out.
Healing our ability to love unconditionally means that we commit to parenting
from love, not anger. Of course, that doesn't mean you won't get angry at your
child. And we all know we don't feel very loving at those moments.
Loving unconditionally when you're furious isn't easy. In fact, it's such heavy lifting of the heart that it builds real love muscle. But nothing changes your child's behavior quite as quickly.
Instead of unloading your anger on this small person entrusted to your care and
guidance, can you teach yourself to take a deep breath and a few minutes to calm
The key is to enlarge that space between your child’s stimulus and your reaction,
so that you have the freedom to choose a response that heals. Then you'll be able
to show up as a real teacher for your child, and help her process her upset constructively.
1. When you're angry, shift your attention away from your child and concentrate on calming yourself.
Forget about teaching your child lessons unless you're in a state of love and
can teach lovingly. A teachable moment is always when both people are receptive
and positive. Anger and punishment are never based in love, because your child
never feels love when he's feeling your anger. (In fact, he's in fight, flight
or freeze, which means the learning parts of the brain shut down.)
2. What if your child "deserves" your anger?
You're always entitled to your anger, but it's always YOUR anger, not the other
person's responsibility. In any case, that's not a judgment you can make while
3. What if your child's behavior requires "discipline"?
Discipline means guidance. Your guidance will be a lot more effective once you're
calm. It's our job as parents to be our child's role model in handling emotions
constructively. That means never acting on our anger from that "fight, flight or
freeze" place where our child looks like the enemy and we have to "win" while our
child has to "lose."
4. But isn’t it healthy to express your anger?
Dumping your anger on another person is never healthy; it just reinforces your
rage. What's healthy is to acknowledge how you feel -- angry -- and then be brave
enough to pause and notice what's under your anger -- hurt, fear, sadness, disappointment.
Once you've calmed down, you'll be better able to take care of your own hurt places,
and also intervene so your child learns how to manage her behavior better.
5. Doesn't he need to learn a lesson?
Of course, but rage is not the lesson you want to teach. If you make your teachable
moments into learnable moments by waiting until your child is receptive, your teaching
will stick. Your child will get something even better than the lesson about behavior
-- lessons about self-regulation. And just as important, the unshakable conviction
that he is wholly and unconditionally loved exactly as he is, including all those
messy, passionate emotions that make us human.
Notice I didn't say this would be easy. But every time you manage your anger instead
of dumping it onto your child, it gets easier. You're actually re-wiring your brain!
Just keep practicing, finding that moment of freedom between the stimulus (your
child's behavior) and your own response. Noticing is what gives us a choice next
Loving unconditionally is "Win-Win" parenting. That's because not acting on your
anger creates more space for love. And where there is more love, there is always
more room for miracles.
This is Step 7 in our series
Ten Steps to Unconditional Love. Want More? In the US, it's autumn, always
a time of exciting new beginnings. But wherever you are, it's always a good time
to learn to love more! So we're exploring each of the ten steps in more detail
over the next few weeks.
Don't like this series? It's designed to heal our ability to love unconditionally,
so we can give our children the unconditional love they need. But soon we'll be
back to our regular parenting emails!
"Dr.Laura's daily emails are the perfect way to start the day with love and compassion"
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids
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Have a question about parenting your preschooler? Questions from readers, with
wise and practical solutions from Dr. Laura Markham to the worst problems your preschooler can dish out!