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“Unconditional love matters most when children are not being easy to be with.”

– Alfie Kohn 

This is one of the hardest things we experience as parents: staying loving when our child is being really difficult.  

It’s so important though! Not only because of course we want our child to feel loved unconditionally by us in that moment, but so that they grow up knowing that they are worthy and loveable even when they are not perfect or at their best.  

As adults, many of us are familiar with the feeling, “If people really knew me, would they still like me or love me?” We can be afraid that we need to always show up in a certain way- perfectly put together, no mistakes, no ugly feelings- to be loved. And we might be afraid that if people could see the ‘real’ us, they wouldn’t stick around.  

The roots of this fear are in childhood. Even if our parents did the best they could, we often got the message that we were more loveable when we were: quiet, or neat, or happy, or easy, or whatever was easiest and most pleasant for our parents.  

The challenge we face as parents is to send the message to our child that we love and accept them even when they are not easy:

  • A two-year-old running away when we’re trying to get them out of a poopy diaper.
  • A four-year-old who screams, “You’re not my best friend.”
  • An eight-year-old having a major public meltdown because you won’t buy a fancy smoothie when we think they’re way past the age to be doing that.
  • A twelve-year-old who won’t speak to you because you’re not budging on buying them a phone.
  • A fourteen-year-old who snaps at us when we’re trying to help with their math homework after they ASKED us for help. (My daughter this weekend!)  

You’ve probably heard me say this before: Peaceful parenting is not necessarily about stopping these situations from happening. (Although we can often get quite a way toward that goal by using all the tools!) It’s about showing up with calm and compassion when our children are being difficult. 

The first step is always to calm ourselves. Stop, drop and breathe.  

Next, remember that our child is having a hard time, not giving us a hard time. Don’t take it personally! 

Then we connect with our hearts and try to feel love instead of fear in these situations. We want our child to feel our unconditional love- even when they’re being really difficult.  

Our children need to feel from us: “I accept and love all parts of you, even the ‘ugly bits’” — so that they can accept and love all parts of themselves as they grow into adults. If we didn’t get that? We can work on it now. This is how we and our children can truly be ourselves and be loved for who we are.

Want some more support?

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 15, 18, and 21). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”

Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com