Parenting with the benefit of the doubt: Seeing the good in your child.

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

All children need our love, but my dear mentor, clinical psychologist Dr. Ben Sorotzkin, says, they need our respect more than our love. Respect means we see the good and positive in them and parent with the benefit of the doubt.

boy holding flowers in both hands smiling

We must strive to always view a child in a positive light, even when he misbehaves. We need to reframe his misbehaviors as an unavoidable reactions to stressors, as not the child’s fault. We must see him as a wonderful person who unfortunately was overwhelmed by frustrations and stressors, and reacted improperly not as a conscious choice but as an automatic guiltless reaction. Viewing a child this way saves us from so much trouble, conflict and emotional health issues. Children are totally pure and innocent, there is literally no such thing as a bad child. However seeing a child as “Bad” “troublesome”, “Mischievous” or lazy” is something he will pick up on and terrible damages his self-esteem. Children lack experience in a big way and it is absolutely necessary for them to make volumes and volumes of mistakes, in order to learn. Our esteem of them in our eyes should never be lowered because of those many mistakes, since they are totally normal, natural and necessary, he must not be held responsible for them or in any way criticized.

Parenting with the benefit of the doubt means always assuming the child had good intentions, that from his point of view, the mistake was the logical choice, but stressors and inexperience prevented him from making a wiser one. Often we need to understand that children seriously lack impulse control, and simply cannot and should not be expected to resist the temptation to misbehave and therefore are completely not guilty. Rather we must remove the temptation from his view so he won’t be challenged by it. If there’s some cookies being saved for guests, keep them out of his view!

Seeing a child in this positive light will give you much more tolerance and patience for misbehavior, in turn saving you from much conflict and many problems down the road, as responding to misbehavior with reprimands and punishments always creates problems and can, this way, be avoided. For a detailed discussion of the pitfalls of scolding and reprimands, click here.

Mischief is normal and good!

girl smiling with headphones on her ears.

We need to reframe a mischievous child as really energetic, curious, brave and enterprising. Traits that lead to mischief as a child are usually precisely the traits that lead to a creative, assertive, successful business career as an adult. Admire your child’s creative ingenuity and learn to laugh at his mischievous escapades. Very often feelings of boredom and frustration, as well as emotional needs and a need for happiness being unfulfilled, is fueling his misbehavior, and by injecting happiness into his day in advance we can prevent the whole problem.

Remember that children see themselves the way their parents see them, so by truly viewing them in a positive light you are creating true self-esteem, self-value, and are preventing the generating of many emotional illnesses. 

Finally, as I have said elsewhere, we must avoid criticism. Even so-called constructive criticism, if administered on a regular basis, is devastating to a child’s sense of self. He thus feels ashamed for his natural impulses, and this can even generate emotional illness. Therefore we must tolerate and overlook most mistakes, and only ever so gently and carefully call attention to them. For a detailed discussion of the pitfalls of constructive criticism, click here.

Feel free to peruse my interesting blog, the specialties on my website, or download on of my informative free reports. If you are experiencing challenges parenting with the benefit of the doubt, and would like guidance or treatment from a child therapist in lower Manhattan, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!