When he was a mere 3-year-old, my son tried to teach me an important lesson about hidden judgment. Now, 5 years later, it’s finally sinking in. I get it, and boy, was he on to something that I just couldn’t understand then. I wish I had, but better late than never, as we say.
The background story: I was raised by parents who didn’t receive praise as children. Particularly my kind-hearted mother shared this on several occasions with me in an effort, I think to clarify why she did give it whenever she could. It always made sense to me – boost your child’s self-esteem by letting them know when you “approve.”
The unintended consequence: Far be it logical to my mother or to me, that this is a practice of providing outside acceptance, when really, what we want is for our children is for them to FEEL self-acceptance. I don’t blame my mother for a thing, but do have to admit that my entire life (prior to becoming aware of it), I’ve sought out acknowledgement, acceptance, approval from others. If I went too long without receiving it, I’d feel an overwhelming sense of self-doubt! There’s also been an ongoing fear of judgment from others, which can lead to some paralyzing behavior on my part.
My son’s teachings: Ever since he could talk, he would balk at my “Bravo!” “Way to go!” “That’s awesome!” I was baffled. Doesn’t he feel good when I praise him? Why does he seem to get upset by it? I kept it up, sometimes with hesitation, but I was convinced he needed it in order to build more self-esteem.
The essence of “nonviolent communication” (NVC): When I was introduced to NVC, a communication model based on empathy and compassion, trainer Yoram Mosenzon taught me an essential lesson, which I think is perfectly summarized by a quote he uses in his email signature:
“When I judge something as good, I create the existence of bad.”
Conclusions: My son has always felt this polarization of judgment that is inherent in “praise.” He’s old enough now that I can talk with him about it. When I shared this quote with him, he responded with, “Exactly!” Woah, who knew children could be so wise!? I then asked, “What would you rather I do instead of shower you with compliments? Tell you how I feel instead of focusing on you?” His response: “Yes, that would be nice.”
And that’s what NVC has also taught me – to own the feelings I express. E.g. to say, “I see what you are doing, and I feel so warm and happy inside” is owning my feeling and keeping the focus on myself. Yet to say to my son, “I am pleased by what you did” indicates that my feeling is dependent on his actions, and that might feel less “safe” for him.
In the coming months, I will be undergoing more NVC training, practicing it (applicable with everyone we encounter!), and sharing my experiences. I hope you enjoy, learn from my own learnings, and feel inspired!