If I told you that your child’s daily struggle was to win your love and approval, would you think differently?

Would it make you think differently about your relationship with them?

What if I told you  that it’s not a conscious struggle but innate? Without love and approval children can die inside. A bit dramatic? I don’t think so.

‘You know it’s true, everything I do, I do it for you.’  ~ Bryan Adams

“Yes that’s me!” cry all Mums at once. Everything I do is for my child. They are the centre of my Universe. Well, rest assured that everything your child is doing is for you also. Well, it’s for your love and approval. It’s what nurtures their tender hearts and innocent souls. It helps them grow into healthy happy well-rounded human beings.

Do you spend all your time seeking approval from others? You will know this is you if you:

  • Often doubt yourself
  • Struggle to make decisions
  • Ask permission to do things (when you don’t need to)
  • Apologise a lot (and when you don’t need to)
  • Do something you don’t want to do because you find it hard to say no
  • Post things on Facebook to get feedback (oh sorry that’s me!)
  • Are easily offended if people have a different opinions
  • Get upset when nobody notices how much effort you have made / your new hair cut
  • Need other people to compliment you
  • Are looking to be appreciated or understood

As an adult who has spent most of her life seeking approval from others, it’s only  now in my 40s, I realise what other people think of me is their filter and their view of the world. I reaffirm that to myself by saying (some days more times than others):

‘Someone’s opinion of you is not your reality unless you believe it. Their words are powerless without your acknowledgement. They don’t walk in your shoes, so don’t give them power to direct your path. Keep moving forward and let nothing hold you back.’

Children Crave Connection Like Oxygen

Or should that be ‘Children crave connection like we crave chocolate?’ I did write about our food cravings having emotional lack correlations. Chocolate being love of course! And that love being connection. That connect with their parents that they get through love and approval.

I write passionately about connection as I coach families who struggle to create it because their has been some sort of emotional trauma in the family. This can be a bereavement in the family, a recently home move, a sick parent, separation or divorce. Any emotional trauma causes disconnection and that disconnection usually manifests itself in a child’s behaviour. The child is a symptom of the family system. It’s often the most sensitive child whose radar is finely attuned to the disconnection.

stayconnected

There are other ways that connection can be broken between parent and child. I’m sure you can think of your own ways that you break connection with your child:

  • not properly listening
  • screens
  • dismissing feelings
  • being apart for long periods of time
  • shaming emotions or behaviour
  • new routines
  • overscheduling and rushing around from one thing to the next
  • conflict
  • anger

A child sits in the space between two parents. Whatever that space looks like is how it is for them on a daily basis. Where there is harmony, there is love and security. Where there is disharmony (this includes disharmony that you think you are hiding from your child), there is uncertainty, anxiety and sadness. What does that space look like for you and your partner?

According to Oliver James, author of my current read ‘They F*** You Up, we carve out our niche in the family according to how much love and approval we win from each parent. I was astounded to read that in the case where we re one of many siblings (I am one of four girl) each child is brought up by the same two people, but by four different sets of parents.

presence is powerful

Nature versus Nurture

This is the same for you when you were growing up. think about your role in your family and how you got to win your love and approval. You did win it didn’t you? I’m not sure that I did. I mean I know that my parents love me because we are programmed to love our parents and they programmed to love us. I didn’t have my Dad’s love of sport like my little sister has and I wasn’t as compliant as my siblings. I did make them notice me with my academic achievements, but was that enough?

Our birth order, our sex, how attractive we are (yes really, how very vacuous), how clever we are, how much we remind our parents of the unhealed parts of themselves, how compliant we are and a whole plethora of environmental factors mean that the way we turn out has very little to do with genes. Although we tell ourselves that it’s genetic to lessen the responsibility of parenthood and to convince ourselves that the bits of our children we are not so keen on are genetic and unchangeable. They are out of our control.

Well they are not. Out of our control I mean. In fact you may be surprised to know that the family that we grow up in affects our:

Creativity by 75%

Intelligence by 65%

Personality by 60%

Sociability by 75%

Emotionality 60%

Extroversion 60-70%

Autism 20-30%

Alcoholism (70% in males and 90-100% in females)

Anxiety neurosis 80-100%

Manic depression 35-50%

Attachment security 100%

These statistic were taken from James’ book and are part of a twin study by Robert Plomin who has shown the importance of non-shared environment, a term that he coined to refer to the environmental reasons why children growing up in the same family are so different. In addition, he has shown that many environmental measures in psychology show genetic influence and that genetic factors can mediate associations between environmental measures and developmental outcomes.

I mostly like Oliver James because he invented love bombing; this is the ultimate way to connect with your child. It claims to reset your child’s emotional thermostat. I guess that’s a bit like when we take time out to top up our resources What’s your thing? Warm bath, manicure, hair cut or coffee with a friend? We know what is wrong if we need to reboot. Children struggle to express themselves. They only know when they feel off and their make it their business to let you know about it too.

So let’s break that down into every day life and keep it real. Let look at the following commonplace scenarios that I see in my coaching clinic most weeks and find out how love and approval can dissolve anger, fear and sadness. Before we begin, there’s two things you need to know:

1. Your Child’s Love Language

So it would also help to know how your child likes to be loved. I have written a whole blog post on Love Languages as I think this is crucial to helping your child feel loved, secure and comfortable in their own skin. You have to speak the same language. In fact love is at the heart of much of my writing.  Randomly, I’ve learnt about love through horses and I’ve written about how the wrong kind of love can be destructive.

2. You are Your Child’s Mirror

You show them who they are. You are their role model. They are always watching, not always listening but always watching. Then it would help to know that every time they kick off or behave in ways that frustrate, disappoint and anger you, and you respond in kind – frustrated, disappointed and angry, they are depleted of love and approval. This affects how they feel about themselves.

Armed with these two very important facts, let’s coach this one out with two very basic scenarios: The Angry Child and The Anxious Child. I don’t like labels but these are for you and as guidance.

The Angry Child

From the parent’s perspective, this child is full of fiery raw emotion which is exhausting. This child may evade boundaries, tune out, have a strong will and need to be in control. I find that angry children need:-

  • Daily relaxation to help them regulate their emotions
  • To understand that anger is not a bad emotion – they will turn it in on themselves or stuff it down with unhealthy habits / addictions
  • To listen to what their anger is telling them – emotional satnav says ‘I don’t like it when that happens, I’m scared /afraid’
  • Empathy ‘You are really mad, I can see how mad you are.’
  • Firm limits ‘You are really mad but I will not let you kick me. People are not for kicking’
  • 10 minutes of connection every day
  • Some angry workout tools – we learn these at my workshops
  • Choices so they feel as if they are in control
  • A calm parent who can help them work through / process the anger (we can’t expect that from them, if we are not it)
  • A place were they can lose it and feel safe
  • Descriptive praise so they are getting love and approval when they show you what you want to see
  • A creative or physical activity to express their emotions on a regular basis

helping your angry child

I find that angry children respond badly to:-

  • Punishment – they kick back more and power struggles ensue
  • Being sent away to deal with their anger on their own
  • Being shamed for their behaviour (we are not our behaviour)
  • Being judged or labelled for their anger (we are not our emotions)
  • Pandering – giving in to avoid angry outbursts

The Anxious Child

From the parent’s perspective, this child can be demanding. This child wants constant reassurance,can develop fears and phobias often around food and sleep, has an over active (and yet incredibly creative) mind, asks lots of questions and at times lacks confidence (although not always obvious)

  • Daily relaxation to help them regulate their emotions
  • To use their creativity in more positive ways and recognise that it is a gift
  • 10 minutes of connection every day
  • To learn the art of positive thinking – we learn this at my workshops
  • Routine and structure so they know what is coming next
  • Think-throughs / mini role plays to practise what to do and say in new situations or when they are out of their comfort zone
  • A calm parent who can help them work through / process the anxiety
  • Physical objects that represent connection when they parent isn’t present – scarfs that smell of Mum, photographs etc.
  • Descriptive praise so they are getting love and approval when they show you what you want to see
  • A creative or physical activity to express their emotions on a regular basis
  • More time for their bedtime routine and maybe a relaxing bath / massage / back rub
  • A positive role model who believes that they can do it for themselves

I find that anxious children respond badly to:-

  • Being forced to do something before they are ready / without discussion and planning
  • Being shamed for their behaviour (we are not our behaviour)
  • Being judged or labelled for their anger (we are not our emotions)
  • Inconsistency
  • Having their feelings around their anxieties dismissed – they are real and frightening to them
  • Being told to toughen up – they are sensitive and creative children who need these qualities nurturing in them

Underneath your child’s irritating behaviour is something else for you to know. Working it out is half the battle but this may help you:

whatdoes behaviourmean

Just say to yourself: “My love and approval, my love and approval, my love and approval!” It’s what they want.

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