In past blogs I spoke about our Reactive and Creative Selves and our need to intercept the reactions and replace them with thoughtful responses. There is no place that this intervention is more important than when we are dealing with our children. Young children are greatly influenced by our verbal and non-verbal communication. From a very early age they are able to pick up our disapproval and are very frightened by it. This fear gets imprinted in their minds and often causes great havoc throughout their adult life.
Because a child’s well-being is dependent on his parents, when the parent expresses displeasure or anger the child becomes fearful that the parent will now leave him - abandon him – which terrifies him. This fear of rejection or abandonment leads the child to modify his behavior, his opinion or his point of view, in order to avoid disapproval, not because he understands the error of his behavior.
A young child’s psyche desperately needs approval. Disapproval unconsciously but viscerally activates his fight/flight or freeze response, triggered by his terror of being alone, which is connected to his survival mechanism. From very early on, our egos, our identities, the “I,” believe we have to be good, we have to please our parents so that we’re taken care of. If we don’t they may leave us, and if they leave us we will die.
This is not a conscious process; the child doesn’t sit there and think, “my parents are going to leave me now, I’m going to be all alone, I’m going to die” – it’s an emotional reaction of threat. It’s psychological threat, but the body doesn’t know it’s psychological threat: it perceives it as life-and-death threat.
Being good, looking good becomes directly linked to survival. Seeking approval now becomes one of the major driving forces in the individual’s life.
You may ask how on earth am I supposed to discipline my child and teach him the difference between right and wrong without expressing disapproval? Children need discipline and socialization, but from a caring and patient space. They don’t know better and they need to be guided and taught. The challenge here is to correct or teach the child without being reactive. Children don’t need to hear and feel our anger, our displeasure, when all they are doing is being children. They need our guidance and support as they make mistakes and learn through the consequences we set up for them.