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Stop Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally

Do you react emotionally when your teenager rolls their eyes at you? Or when your three year old whines for every toy they see in the store? How about when your preteen cries in the fitting room at Walmart because you won’t let them buy a teeny weeny bikini like “all the other moms?”

Okay, maybe that last one was a little personal for me. (Only 9 hours removed from that showdown, which was made worse by the 74-year-old fitting room attendant who thought she needed to “help us” problem solve.)

My point is that sometimes it feels like our kids are making choices JUST to irritate us or make us look like we’re too strict. As my daughter stood stubbornly in the fitting room today with her fists at her sides, it felt like she WANTED me to feel like a bad mom. And maybe she did. Maybe she thought that making me feel bad would cause me to change my decision in her favor.

But the important thing for me to remember was that her desire to get what she wanted HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. And when your child is trying to get what they want, it doesn’t have anything to do with you, either.

When our children disobey, it’s because they’re making a choice to trust their own opinions instead of ours. They’re choosing autonomy. Maybe it’s because they think we don’t understand what they want or why they want it, but it could also be because they think we’re being unfair. Either way, it has a lot more to do with their understanding of the world around them–or, rather, their desire to gain control of the world around them–than it does with getting under our skin.

We can either choose to be offended at their lack of trust in the decisions we make for them, or we can remove ourselves from the situation to maintain emotional neutrality. It isn’t about us.

Believe it or not, it’s a sign of healthy development for kids to question what they’re told. It’s a critical thinking skill that we try to encourage at school but try to squash when it comes to obedience. It would be more effective for us to help our children problem solve through advantages and disadvantages than it would be for us to expect blind obedience.

They won’t obey us blindly because they were designed to question things.
They won’t obey us out of an understanding of our rules because they’re not that mature/intelligent yet.
They won’t obey us out of a desire to maintain our relationship together because that would be unhealthy co-dependence.
They won’t obey us out of fear because desires almost always outweigh fears. Remember that fears can be overcome. And if our children really are THAT scared of us, then we’re parenting wrong altogether.

It’s more helpful for us to teach our kids about risk versus reward (in regards to obeying) than it is for us to teach them about right versus wrong. Sometimes right and wrong can be very complicated, but risk versus reward can always be evaluated using context. Teach them about how decisions could hurt them or help them; how their decisions could hurt others or help others. Teach them to think beyond themselves, but to do so critically. Teach them about short-term goals and long-term consequences.

Teach them, and teach them, and teach them… but remember that their choices aren’t a personal attack on you. It’s not about you.

Stop Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). Stop Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Jul 2019
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