Do we love our children unconditionally? Do we only show them love when they display appropriate behavior? When our love and unconditional support is related to specific action, do our children start to believe that someone's approval determines their self-worth?
This (unconscious) conditional love gives us as parents a sense of control over the child's behavior. Can this lead to the child believing that love and approval only come if their actions are pleasing?
A child may start suppressing their internal feelings, values, and wishes as they continually cause conflict with external authority. The result could be that their self-worth has no value, leading them to substitute their own decision making for those of their peers.
In the society we live in, there are so many levels of conditional love and approval. Children are led to believe they are only worthy if they are smart or skinny or have a big circle of friends. How do we, as parents, go about allowing them to behave in ways that are consistent with their internal wishes, thereby helping them develop a sense of well-being?
It would almost seem irresponsible as a parent to not punish wrong behavior. Right? But then we are only focusing on the action. Have we asked ourselves why they may be behaving that way? What emotional struggle could they be battling?
Unconditional love is showing approval for the person even as we disapprove of the behavior. It's how we convey the unacceptability of specific actions without making the child feel unaccepted.
Here are four points that will help guide us to try and develop a positive self-worth in our children and a love that is unconditional.
1. Get down to their level of understanding. Open the lines of communication and build a relationship of trust and respect.
2. Build self-esteem. Research shows that self-esteem grows from feeling capable and understood, not solely from reward charts.
3. No shaming. No humiliation. Explain what is wrong with the behavior, not what is wrong with the child.
4. Show them how to change. Don't withdraw; engage. Don't harden, soften. Don't push your child away; bring them closer.
It's not easy being parents, with so many external influences out of our control. But we can make sure we are building a stable relationship with our children, and even in the hard times, that secure connection will shine through.