Take for instance the out-to-dinner-with-the-family scenario. Everything is going well when all of sudden a glass brimming with soda is carelessly knocked across the table by a child, completely soaking everything. Inconvenient and embarrassing, the parent suddenly feels as if every eye in the restaurant is turned towards the table. When the waitress comes to assist in the cleanup, out of that feeling of awkwardness the parent remarks, "I just can't take him anywhere… he's such a klutz!" Consider for a moment the implications of such a statement.
As a counselor, I hear parents explain to me that making these potentially disparaging remarks in front of their children doesn't matter, because the child knows that they are loved. (It’s rarely for the children that the parents are seeking help). Yet this is told to me right after I have already separately interviewed their child, who tells me they only wish their parents would love them again. When asked why they believe their parents no longer love them, the child cites those very sort of remarks—those made at the restaurant or to the neighbor or to the teacher at school. Usually remarks made to cover up the parents' embarrassment for the child's natural mistakes, taking responsibility for the child’s learning process, but in a way that makes the child feel that he is the mistake. They are thoughtlessly shaping the child’s perception of his own character.
Instead of looking past those mishaps as things to learn from and grow past, the child begins to see them as who they are. Acting out and messing up become their identity. So when a child is continually doing this, making truly unnecessary mistakes, or walking down the wrong path entirely, the conversation should be about where the love is lacking.
This piece was contributed to the Love Loudly movement by:
Mark is a Clinical Director, Consultant to the National Institute of Justice, and Federal Grant Peer Reviewer, and Board Member for the Association of Christian Alcohol and Drug Counselors Institute (ACADCI) and Cherished.