As parents, many of us fail to provide unconditional positive regard – the one ingredient that is vital for the development of an authentic and truly happy human. We rarely accept our kids as they are – their uniqueness, their kinks, their flaws, and many varied personality traits that make us all so different.
Even before our kids are born, we have a preconceived notion of how they should be. And it’s worse after their birth. Our expectations are tainted by our past history – achievements, non-achievements, failures, successes. Moreover, the cultural milieu we live in shapes our expectations of how our kids should be and what they need to do. We are so caught up in keeping up with the Jones or worried about what people think. And our kids have to fall in line and fit into the square boxes we build for them.
Nonetheless, being truly accepted and loved as we are is critical for our mental health – particularly that of a developing child.
I must confess, that I too had great expectations for how my son should be. Thankfully, he was too strong-willed to succumb to my interference. Seeing, him now as an adult doing his thing and being comfortable in his own skin. I am glad I backed down from pushing him into things I thought would be best for him.
What is Unconditional Positive Regard?
Unconditional positive regard is a concept developed by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. It is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does.
In simple words, it’s really caring for one another person as a separate being while respecting their opinions, choices, failings without judgment, invalidation, or denouncement.
People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right-hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Parenting should be like that, appreciation for this unique human being who we have been fortunate to have in our lives.
Alas, most kids grow up without this unjudgemental acceptance of their uniqueness. Boys are expected to be toughies and girls have to be softies. There is no room for the myriad variations and permutations of a human being.
Rogers’s Theory of Personality Development
Rogers’s theory of development posits that conditional love leads to a need to distort experiences. This fosters an incongruent self-concept. Incongruence makes one prone to recurrent anxiety, triggering defensive behavior, which fuels more incongruence.
When a child is valued and loved only when he/she behaves in a way that is acceptable to others. –I will love you IF you get top grades. it leads to incongruence – a state in which a child’s self-concept conflicts with their own experience.
By the time the child reaches their teens, they are ridden with angst and filled with resentment towards their parents, school, and society. They either rebel or simply lack the motivation to do anything worthwhile.
Rogers did not believe in permissive parenting. He said parents can disapprove of behavior without completely rejecting the child.
Some ways to show unconditional positive regard towards your child:
1) Pay Attention – Truly Listen – Hug
Attuning to our child’s needs, feelings, and wants sends the message that they are important – that we value you. Pay attention to what is being said and not said. Attuned listening builds a child’s resonance circuitry via the mirror neurons, to be seen, heard, and accepted by one’s parents is the best gift parents can give their child.
In our busy lives, we tend to tune out our children’s chatter or worse tell them to shut up and not disturb you. You may not be able to always truly and deeply listen 24×7 but as a parent, you need to learn to discern when your child needs your undivided attention and when you can ignore their whining.
Furthermore, kids are particularly clued in on the non-verbal expressions– eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, gestures, timing, and intensity of response. Sometimes all your child needs a reassuring hug or a pat on his back. Don’t underestimate the power of touch to convey that feeling of total acceptance.
2) Your Words Matter – Empathetic Communication
Most parents look at their kids as unintelligent beings. Instead of engaging them in an equal conversation they usually talk down to them.
Authentic and deep connection with our kids doesn’t happen overnight. It happens through consistent positive daily interactions with them. If we responded to their cries when they were kids they would have internalized trust and self-soothing by the time they are two.
Sharp words and judgment can shrink their confidence, be gentle and kind when sharing your disapproval.
Moreover, don’t label them, compare them or judge them. Sure, call them out when they misbehave or ill-treat their little sister but never say ‘you are mean’, ‘you always behave badly’, ‘you are stupid‘, etc.
The implicit and explicit messages parents/caregiver convey becomes the default state of how we view ourselves and how we relate to the world.
For years I felt ‘not good enough because of the messages that were drummed into me. It has taken so much time and work to erase the negative, harmful words that had become ingrained into my psyche.
Talk with your kids, don’t talk down to them.
Be mindful of the programs you instill in your innocent, trusting children. Remember, respect and trust have to be earned.
3) Don’t Be Judgmental – Accept Negative Emotions
It is common to shame a child for throwing a tantrum. A child can go from happy to rageful in a split second. And most parents cannot deal with these seeming highs and lows of a child’s emotional landscape. It all depends on one’s own emotional stability and level of self-regulation. If you feel triggered by their behavior work on your own emotional regulation.
Don’t try to brush off their fears and push them to feel positive. It is this obliteration of a child’s true feelings that lead to the development of a false self. They learn to pretend to be what is expected which only diminishes their true potential.
4) Discipline – Be Honest and Genuine
Unconditional positive regard does not mean unilaterally allowing bad, noxious, or harmful behavior. However, you have to learn the tact of denouncing the behavior as bad rather than labeling your child as bad.
There should be no incongruency or inconsistency as to what is allowed or not allowed. And when the dreaded question WHY? is asked, always have a sensible reason. Don’t simply say, ‘because I said so’.
Also, make your parenting non-negotiables clear, give valid explanations for your stand.
Our kids may not always do things we approve of, but with genuine caring, we can guide them gently to make positive choices. Your kids don’t know anything about life, it is your job to steer them along the right path.
Moreover, be mindful of your own actions, children model their behaviors as per their environment. Be fair, be just and let bygones be bygones. Don’t rake up past bad behavior to guilt-trip them.
5) Keep Your Promises
Keeping your promise to your child conveys to them that they are important. Failing to keep promises incontrovertibly shows as ‘you do not matter to me.’ you are not worthy.
The unpredictability that unfolds as a consequence of a promise unkept is experienced by the brain and body as a threat.
Making promises and keeping them is one way the people, places, and things around us – the world – becomes safe and reasonably predictable. Predictability makes the world become a place we can feel at home in. One of the things that make us feel at home is the way our brains and bodies feel when we’re there – safe, comfortable, familiar, well-regulated
If you cannot keep a promise for whatever reason, explain and come up with an alternative plan. Never shrug or pass it off as if it was nothing important.
6) Give Them Choices – Allow Them to Make Decisions
Every parent goes through the dreaded stage of terrible two, where a child just wants to do things his way or do what he wants. I have found that instead of fighting this stage of developing autonomy, the best strategy is to allow them to make decisions by offering two choices, this or that.
This is a very important step in a child’s development wherein he feels he is in control and does not have to succumb to the dictates of his parent. As a child grows, he feels free to discuss, negotiate and express what he wants or does not want to do without fear of judgment or reprisal.
Check the video below on how through self-acceptance parents can give their child unconditional positive regard.
Unconditional Positive Regard – Michelle Charfen | TEDxRedondoBeach
Beware Acceptance can become Enabling
There is a caveat to the unconditional positive regard premise – when acceptance can become enabling. Yes, parenting a child up the slippery slope to adulthood is a tight-rope walk. You have to maintain your balance at all times. Additionally, you have to aware of your own dark shadows that influence how you relate to your child. Are you permissive, allowing any bull shit because your parent was an authoritarian tyrant? Or have you become a helicopter parent because your parent was neglectful and uncaring.
Furthermore, we need to teach our children that they do not have to unilaterally practice unconditional positive regard when it comes to toxic people. It can give the wrong message. There are some people who will take advantage of this acceptance,
Toxic people take tolerance as permission for further exploitation. Sometimes, the only option is the stay clear of them or keep them at a distance. You don’t need to waste your precious energy on them. Protect and care for yourself first
Autonomous, Authentic, and Confident
If during the early years, children are unconditionally loved and accepted they grow up with high self-worth. They feel confident about tackling life’s many challenges. This leads to success and happiness in their professional and personal lives.
The reason why so many young people have mental health issues is mainly due to the lack of unconditional positive regard. They grew up in a judgemental, demanding, and coercive environment. They had to please and be ‘good’, to gain acceptance. Invariably they end up having identity issues along with a lot of repressed anger which can inappropriately erupt causing hurt and damage.
Children are born with a constellation of potentialities and possibilities that needs the fertile soil of unconditional positive regard. Prioritize non-judgemental acceptance and appreciation while you guide your kids to blossom into the best version of themselves.
Image Source: Pexels
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