Last June, I was at Trader Joe’s with my three year old daughter. She had one of the kids carts, and was pushing it along right next to the refrigerated produce display. I was grabbing a bag of greens when I heard her say, “Get out of the way, I’m coming through!”
As I looked up, I noticed a woman glowering at my daughter. I could feel my defenses go up just looking at her facial expression, and then she said, “You get out of my way. You know, that’s a really rude thing to say to someone.”
My daughter just stood there.
By that point I had closed the space between us, taking deep breaths all the while, and I squatted down to my daughter’s level and said, “Let’s go around this way.” As I stood back up, I said, “We’re still learning,” and my daughter and I walked off.
Once we were a few feet away, I told my daughter, “You know, sometimes grown ups get frustrated and kind of mean if they don’t hear the word please. Next time someone’s in your way, you could try saying, ‘Excuse me, I’d like to get through!'”
And try it she did. A woman a few feet away from us perked up and said, “Of course! Come on through!”
What do you do when other people try to “discipline” your child?
Whether it’s a woman at the grocery store or someone within your own family or circle of friends calling your parenting into question, these kinds of interaction can leave you feeling shaken. They can even cause you to question how you are parenting your child.
For strangers, having a quick, canned response and just moving on can be helpful, but when it’s someone you’re actually close to, it gets a bit more complicated.
If you’re struggling to make peace with family or friends who just don’t get your child or how you are parenting them, here’s a four step process you can experiment with.
Step 1: Re-frame your thinking
Often the most challenging thing about our interactions with our critics is the type of thoughts and emotions they trigger within us. Perhaps their questions and critiques make us question how we are handling things with our child, which leads us to feel frustrated, discouraged, unsupported, or defensive. But what if feeling defensive was optional? What if we could condition ourselves to respond with different thoughts when the criticisms start flowing?
Here are a few examples.
I have done my research and I’m confident in the parenting choices I’m making.
Recent research on the human brain is on my side.
I am my child’s biggest advocate.
Choosing to think differently in these situations will help keep you from going into defense mode. Your thinking and responses will be clearer and cleaner, which will help your words land more gently.
Step 2: Remember that reflective listening is essential to advocating for your child.
It’s really powerful to view yourself as your child’s advocate in these situations. In order to do this effectively, though, you have to be willing to lean in and listen. Take a moment to process where your friend is coming from. What is the intention behind their criticism? What is their underlying concern?
Often, we’re all coming from a position of love and concern for the child, we just hold different beliefs about how those concerns should be addressed. Once you’ve identified their concern, be sure to reflect it back to them. It could be as simple as saying, “It sounds like you’re concerned about Ryan’s social skills.”
Step 3: Tell them, “I’m concerned about that, too.”
Be sure to let them know that you not only have heard their concern, but you share it, too. It’s on your radar, and you are working on it with your child. This validates their concern, and helps give the conversation a feeling of deeper connection and collaboration.
Step 4: Assert yourself.
This is the step we love to skip to! Especially if we’ve allowed our thoughts to lead us into playing defense. The difference is that you’ve spent time listening for and validating your friend’s concerns. You’ve heard their suggestions. Now you’re going to explain why the approach they’re pushing hasn’t worked for your family and how you’re addressing the concern.
If the concern was about social skills, you might make it clear that you’re very intentional about modeling respect and courtesy. You’re supporting Ryan with the words to navigate social situations when needed, and you’re very open about other people’s expectations and reactions, which ultimately are the natural consequences for disregarding social “rules.” You could even end by saying that you trust Ryan’s learning process and timeline, and you know that growth doesn’t happen overnight, so you are working hard to stay patient and supportive.
Setting boundaries on behalf of your family.
I realize that these four steps aren’t going to play out every time. They’re not going to heal truly toxic relationships. But if you can shift your thinking and start to move out of defensive/reactive mode, it will also help you determine if this is a situation where you need to set boundaries to take care of yourself and your family. Sometimes the best thing we can do is conscientiously limit the time that we spend around certain people.
Do you have loved ones who don’t seem to understand your parenting style? What strategies have served you when it comes to discussing parenting within those relationships? I love hearing your stories. Please share in the comments!
Do you feel stuck in your parenting? Like you’ve tried everything you can think of, but nothing seems to work? How amazing would it be to feel confident in your parenting style AND more deeply connected with your child? I can help you get there! I’d love to connect with you and explore your situation.