How Our Judgments Hurt Kids (And What We Can Do Instead)

One of the most unproductive tendencies we have as parents is our rush to judgment. For example, we might assess and designate certain toddlers as bullies and others as fearful or shy. Their behavior with peers or siblings is stealing, hoarding, or too bossy. They’re not playing nicely. Their crying and tantrums are manipulative.  They are “threenagers,” brats, and so on.

The tendency to quickly judge and label seems to be on the rise recently (from this reporter’s POV), which makes sense considering the tsunami of information that inundates us daily. We have busier, more cluttered, rushed lives, less time for daydreaming and pondering, and shorter attention spans. We’re inclined to want to cut to the chase and move on.

Opening our minds and hearts to young children and being curious explorers can seem to take too much effort, because it also requires us to become more self-aware. Maybe I’m judging my daughter’s assertiveness as negative because my parents shamed me for this very thing? Maybe my parents were wrong to do that? Maybe I’m really okay, and my daughter is, too?

The biggest problem with our hasty judgments (or what psychologist Carol Dweck termed “fixed mindsets”) is that they slam the door on opportunities to be of real help to our children or ourselves. The labels we apply to certain behaviors blind us to the causes of that behavior and what it is communicating. This creates distance and even dislike of our children (which can be hard to overcome), instead of understanding, empathy, and positive growth, all of which deepen our parent-child bonds.

There is always a reason children feel and behave the way they do. When our child’s behavior upsets, annoys or baffles us… what if, instead of judging, then closing the book and reacting out of that fixed mindset, we took the time to observe and listen? What if we dared to release ourselves to an open, uncomfortable, unfinished space of not knowing?

Amber did all of that, and this happened:

Hi Janet,

Firstly I would like to say thank you for your wealth of knowledge in relation to child development. I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old and was struggling with certain behaviours. I visited a psychologist to help me learn how to cope with all the big emotions in my house. She referred me to your podcast, and I have not looked back. I look forward to driving home from work so I can listen to your advice, and especially the pep talk at the end which sets me up for a good day the next morning.

I am writing to thank you for the post on “fake crying” and wanted to let you know that you are exactly right. I have had a personal experience of this with my first child.

I was expecting our second child (35 weeks pregnant), moved house, transitioned to a bed, AND changed child care centres — a very hectic time in a two-year-old’s life. My daughter went from loving her previous child care centre to crying as soon as she realized she was going to the new Kindy that day. She would scream and the teachers would have to pry her off me.

The teachers would say, “Cut that out. Let Mum go and let’s go outside and play. Stop being silly… Oh, she is doing it again. I thought she would be too old for this.”

I was at a loss of what to do, and everyone kept saying it’s normal when you change child care centres. We would pick her up in the afternoon, and she would be soooo tired and sad. I recognized that in all the photos from the school, she seemed to be by herself and clinging onto a security blanket (she never even attached to a security blanket in the past, we just sent one as that is what we were told to do). At dinner, she wouldn’t even talk.

I requested a meeting with the centre director who informed me that my child had the worst separation anxiety she had ever seen but offered no guidance. My daughter had never had a problem with separation before and, if anything, we described her as a vivacious, outgoing toddler. She had also started to point at us and say quite aggressively, “You stop that right now, you hear;” and “This is all your fault that the babies are awake.”

Once the baby had arrived and was a month old, we ended up pulling her out of the centre and changed her to another, where she settled in immediately and went back to our bubbly happy girl.

A month or so later, I drove past the old centre and she pointed and said, “I don’t want to go there, Mummy.” When I asked why, she said, “Because when your eyes rain you have to sit outside with no one.” All I can assume is that my child was scared, and her way of showing that was by crying. She must have been isolated from the group as punishment.

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience — to listen to my children’s emotions – and I wanted to share that with you as I read your blog and know some people wouldn’t agree with what you said (in your post “Fake Crying” or whatever). I agree first-hand with everything you have stated and thank you again for supporting all of us Mums.

With Kind Regards, Amber

Thank you so much, Amber, for allowing me to share your story!

I share more about understanding and addressing our children’s behaviors in my book, No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.

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