Whether we’re in the midst of a family struggle, or we’re just having a tough day, kids tend to watch our body language, and blame themselves.
Recently, a parent requested support because their 5-year-old believes that when the parent appears sad or upset that it means they don’t love them.
Although this child is younger, this post also applies to parents of older children. We have to keep in mind that we establish most of our core beliefs by the age of 7. So it’s important to address these beliefs early and to recognize that, if unchecked, they are still at work well into adulthood.
Children follow our body language to figure out what things mean. These meanings they come up with become beliefs.
Let me show you how beliefs get established. Let’s say that a two-year-old toddler notices that every time Mommy says, “I love you,” she smiles. Then, they notice that every time Dad or sister or Grandma or auntie says, “I love you,” they smile, too. This toddler may conclude that a smile means, “I love you.” So when they see someone look at them with an angry or sad face, especially if it’s one of those same people that smiled and said, “I love you,” it is very likely that they will conclude that a sad or angry face means, “I don’t love you.”
All of this is going on in the child’s mind so we don’t know about it until they bring it to us. So what do you do with when you realize that your child has developed this belief?
I’ve learned is that reversing roles is often a great teaching tool in relationships. Sometimes it’s hard to process new information once we’ve developed a belief so it helps to look at things from a different perspective, even when the child is very young.
Below is my response to the parent’s request for support on handling this situation…
“… if you have a moment with her when you’ve calmed her down after she’s been upset and things are back to normal, you can revisit this. So say she’s back happy playing, reading, watching her video and you say, “Do you love, Mommy (me)?” And she’ll probably say, “Yes.” And then you can say, “When you’re watching a movie do you love me?” “When you’re laughing do you still love me?” “What about when you were sad, did you still love me?” And she’ll probably say “Yes” to all of them, and you can say, “Well, when I’m happy, I love you. When I’m sad, I still love you. When I’m eating my vegetables, I love you. And even when I make you eat vegetables, I still love you. I always love you and I never stop loving you, even if I have a sad face, or angry face.” And it might be a conversation that gets revisited, or even turned into a game of “Do you think I love you, now?” And if she says no, it turns into giggles and belly tickles saying, “Of course, I still love you.” My daughter is now 12 and I still revisit this conversation. When I’m sad, tired, having a bad day, I still say to her, “Don’t worry about how my face looks. I’m not mad at you. I’m just tired/having a rough day. I love you.” Kids make it about them. So it’s important that we reinforce that it’s not.”
So often the struggles in our relationships with our children occur due to miscommunication through our body language. And other times it has a lot to do with the meanings they place on our behavior. Often their conclusions are so far off from what’s really going on.
So if you’ve been in a bad mood lately, or are not feeling well, or are just having a bad day, consider telling your child that. You don’t have to give them the details but just let them know that it’s not about them, AND tell them that you love them.
You may be surprised how often their response is, “Oh, I thought it was my fault.”
Want more tips on how to avoid miscommunication with your child?
Learn more about my course in my recent blog post, “A Parenting Communication Course.”