When Unconditional Love Isn’t Enough

Author: Ben Jackson   |  Tags:

When Unconditional Love Isn’t Enough | Do you find your child shrinks from praise? Or refuse it so strongly that they begin to misbehave? While you're authentic and genuine with your support, why aren’t they responding in the way you’d like? Isn’t unconditional love enough? | Ben Jackson | @benjacksoncoach

Do you find your child shrinks from praise? Or refuse it so strongly that they begin to misbehave? While you’re authentic and genuine with your support, why aren’t they responding in the way you’d like? Isn’t unconditional love enough?

When Your Child Doesn’t Accept Praise

Often we can treat a child’s negative response to something by showing them more love, as though love and affection were like water for fire. If we smother somehow we’ll put out the flames. Yet often unconditional praise and positivity don’t work and it can feel that our love isn’t enough.

Your efforts to support, to put a positive twist, are met with resistance. Worse still you may notice that as the praise increases your child increasingly misbehaves. But aren’t we doing everything right? Not if your child is holding tightly on to the negative feeling, a belief that they are unworthy of the praise.

If your child isn’t happy about themselves no amount of praise will counter that viewpoint. How they feel about themselves will determine how much love and praise they let in.

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A Glass of Water

I hope to offer you an insight into what may be happening, so bear with me if the seems a little off tangent.

There’s been a video doing the round on the internet recently about coping with stress and anxiety. Briefly, a lecturer asks students to guess the weight of the glass of water he’s holding. He explains that holding the glass for a minute isn’t a great strain. But if he held it for a longer period of time, his arm would begin to hurt. The longer he holds it the more pain it causes. He made the comparison that the glass of water is like stress or anxiety. Holding on to the anxiety for too long is damaging. When all we need to do is put the glass down.

I’m not sure whether it’s as easy for those who suffer from anxiety to simply put the glass down, but I wanted to draw your attention to something else. Something, I think, missed in the video: What do we do with the arm once the glass is put down? Understanding this might just be the answer to help you and your child.

Life After the Glass

Imagine the glass is put down. What strains are now on the arm? How would it respond to no longer carrying the weight?

We might assume there’d be some relief, relaxation but perhaps the arm wouldn’t be as relaxed as we think. It may even hurt to have it lower down. It may continue to ache. Uncomfortable without the tension of holding the glass, the arm might raise itself back up. It may even take the glass again or even another glass just for a rest from the uncomfortable feeling.

Many behavioural interventions can have this signature: where a person may rebel against the very thing that would ease their lives or end some anxiety.

It’s this that’s worth thinking about if your child finds the praise unusual and uncomfortable to deal with. Especially if they revert to misbehaviour and its negative consequences.

When Unconditional Love Isn’t Enough, Try These Instead

Here are 7 suggestions that you may like to use to help your child. The focus is on creating a supportive and empathetic environment which ‘pulls’ your child to you rather than you ‘pushing’ your love and praise on them. Overall, you’ll be looking to find small agreements that act like bridges, giving you the chance to develop more communication.

1. Compliment the effort

Focusing on the effort rather than the result gives you something they’ll more readily agree with, breaking down the wall of negativity. But it must be real, authentic and credible, your child will sense the difference.

2. Stop smothering with further praise or love

As described above, ‘loving them happy’ may often give you adverse results and make the situation more challenging as your child resorts to bad behaviour.

3. Respect

Acknowledge that they may need to express their feelings, as long as it’s done respectfully.

4. Evidence ≠ feelings 

Avoid listing out reasons to counteract their negative comments. Don’t look to disprove their belief with evidence and facts. No one likes to be told their wrong. Try instead to listen for things you can agree on. When we agree this often creates a more positive relationship and may well stop the negative self-talk.

5. Breath in Patience 

Recognise that there is no quick or immediate fix, so breath and realise that you both need time and that this is gradual process of change.

6. Discipline the behaviour but recognise the intention, the feelings behind the behaviour

Emotions are signals, information and responses that are better seen separately from behaviour. If your child becomes aggressive either to you or to items in the home, make sure they understand that you’re disciplining the behaviour not the emotion. In this way you are providing that unconditional love.

7. Share your own personal moments of disappointment.

This can help establish empathy and strengthen trust. It may not stimulate a conversation but simply offers your child the chance to reflect and perhaps better explain how they feel, when they’re ready to.

No Quick Unconditional Fix 

Over time and with patience, you can help a child begin to attend to the causes behind those feelings and offer alternative behaviours that see the child acknowledge their abilities and reclaim their potential.

It can be that we just want to love our children until they are happy, yet often that’s not what they need to clamber out of the feelings they have. We need to adjust and pivot our approach so that we can translate parental love into a format that a child is willing to receive. In that way we are able to then achieve our goal of unconditional love.

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About the Author

Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.

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