Have you any tips on how to deal with a child who sticks very much to the rules and can be quite judgmental? My daughter is eight years old and, at times, can judge others in a negative way. She doesn’t always say something negative but she has a “look” that other children definitely understand. She is a very “good” girl who is afraid of making mistakes and getting things wrong – a bit of a perfectionist. The perfectionism don’t bother me so much as the perception I have that she can see herself better than others. Have you any advice on how to deal with this?
As parents it is important to help children to be non-judgmental and empathic of others and not just because this is an important moral value, but also because of the benefits to children themselves.
When a child is more compassionate towards others it makes them more self-compassionate – meaning they give themselves less of a hard time when they mess up or don’t succeed.
Being judgmental is not a good recipe for making friends and if your daughter looks down on children in her peer group, this could make her unpopular and damage existing friendships.
However, at the age of eight, it is normal for children to be black and white in their thinking about what is right or wrong and they are only beginning to learn the important skills of empathy and understanding the context for other people’s actions.
I also think that in many situations perfectionism and being judgmental can go hand in hand. Your daughter is a good girl who behaves well and holds herself to high standards. Your goal is to help her keep her high standards while also learning to be compassionate towards others (and herself) when these standards are not kept.
Be non-judgmental towards your daughter
In helping your daughter, the first step is not to make her feel bad for her perfectionism and high standards. In fact, when you discuss things with her, you might take time to praise her for all these good qualities: “I really appreciate the way you are such a good girl and how you try to keep to the rules” or “It is great the way you aim high and that you have such high standards for yourself.”
Then you can suggest alternative ways of thinking to her: “Of course you don’t have to get it right all the time and I love you even if you didn’t.” Anytime your daughter makes a mistake, be very understanding towards her so she can learn from it and experience the importance of being self-compassionate and accepting.
Teach her directly
If an issue arises where you think your daughter is being judgmental, take time to reflect about it with her later. Go through the incident with her and ask her to think of what she was thinking and feeling and what the other child might have been thinking and feeling.
While of course you might offer her direct advice such as “If you say something like that, you are going to make N feel bad . . . and she might not want to be friends anymore”, it can work best to help her think issues out for herself by asking reflective questions.
Good questions that might help her think would be: “What do you think N might feel when you said or looked at her like that?” or “How would you feel if the same thing happened to you?” Your daughter might need help to become aware of how she is behaving: “Have you noticed the expression on your face when you don’t like something?”
These are sensitive conversations, so it is important to be very kind and gentle and to keep the tone light and matter of fact. It is less effective to be critical of her as this could make her defensive or over-negative towards herself.
In addition, take time to explore solutions and new ways of behaving: “What could you say differently when this happens?” or “How could you make N feel a bit better when she gets the game wrong?”
Use everyday examples to teach her
It is also helpful to use events from stories or movies or even the news to teach your daughter about the importance of being non-judgmental and compassionate.
If your daughter is interested in a particular story that reflects this issue, use this interest to engage in a discussion to explain how people make mistakes (perhaps listing the different reasons) and exploring with her the dilemma in how others might respond. Such third-party stories might be easier to analyse with your daughter than a personal incident (which might bring up embarrassment or defensiveness).
Model acceptance and compassion for her
Of course, children learn more from parents by how we behave rather than by what we say. Your daughter will learn most from how you handle real family issues and personal problems, if you provide a good model for being non-judgmental and compassionate.
For example, if you make a mistake, you might admit it and apologise.
You can use these situations as teaching examples for your daughter, taking time to describe your feelings and answering any questions she might have in a non-defensive manner.
Children learn most from how their parents act in these situations and, hopefully, she will learn to be non-judgmental and accepting towards you.
John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, January 2017. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday. OCTOBER 2017: Dublin ‘Positive Parenting’ courses with John, Saturday, October 21st (3-9 yr olds) and Sunday, October 22nd (10-16yr olds). Details are here.
For information on John’s courses for parents visit www.solutiontalk.ie