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Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?

Updated: Sep 17, 2022

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You bought a special pack of cookies for the whole family to have for dessert. You see that many are missing when you take it out to share with everyone. So you ask your daughter where the cookies disappeared, and she denies knowing anything about it. But the crumbs on her shirt say otherwise. You are angered, and the thoughts hitting you are, “She just ate it! She’s lying! Does she think she can get away with it?” The missing cookies are the least of your concerns; you are now concerned about the morality and integrity you were expecting to see in your child. There is a sense of failure you experience as a parent. To eliminate this unease, you are desperate to teach your child the right behavior and proceed to lecture your child. As a result, your child feels disconnected.

If any of this resonates with you and you are wondering what I should do instead, I would ask you to consider a two-step strategy called ‘accept and reframe’. You can use strategies including this one only when you are somewhat feeling in control or, in other words, your trigger meter is not at its maximum! This is an effective strategy that can help during problematic struggles. Implementing this strategy is NOT EASY, and I will share why it is not easy later. In any case, this strategy works not only to help you regulate yourself but also provides an opportunity for connection.

To implement ‘accept and reframe’, you first want to accept your own feelings about the event. Then you might want to try reframing all the conservative ideas flooding your mind about your child with liberal ones. For instance, in the example above, you might accept what just happened by saying to yourself, I feel disappointed that my daughter ate the cookies and did not admit it. As soon as you accept what you are feeling, you might start regaining more control over yourself because you start feeling seen and heard by yourself. This is when you can move into the second step of using a liberal reframing, and you might think, “It’s possible that my kid was probably too tempted and couldn’t wait, so she ate it. She probably realizes that it was not the right thing to do and is afraid to admit it. She knows it would upset me and doesn't want to lose her face in front of me, so she lied.” Once you have an internal dialogue with a liberal reframing of the situation, you start to experience a shift from feeling bitter to more optimistic.

In an optimistic frame, you can afford to get creative with how you want to address this situation. Using play and humor is usually very effective in these situations. You might say jokingly, “Oh no! There's a cookie monster that lives in our pantry and is gobbling up our cookies! Let us all finish the rest before he gets to it.” This strategy helps lighten the mood and doesn’t make the child feel blamed or shamed for their actions. For closure on the matter, you can bring it up, empathize with your child, acknowledge what she might already be feeling, and share your own feelings. It's important to ensure that your words do not induce guilt or shame. These interactions with our kids must keep their self-esteem intact.

This strategy is not easy to implement because we have grown up facing harsh consequences for our undesirable actions. It is hard to believe that not providing such a consequence can curb such behaviors. The idea of implementing this strategy might invoke feelings of being a permissive parent who is spoiling their child.

The truth, however, is that the way to ensure that kids grow up with high self-esteem and exhibit values such as honesty and integrity depends on their connection with us. Kids must feel that their parents accept them unconditionally, even when they do not show up as expected. According to a 2018 article published by Newport Academy, a teen and adolescent mental health treatment center, kids who feel unconditionally loved, grow up morally strong, resilient, curious, and compassionate individuals. On the other hand, adults who have not received unconditional love as children are usually hard on themselves and find it difficult to forgive themselves for their mistakes or accept themselves as they are.

So the next time your child does something you do not like, consider a liberal reframing of the situation at hand and use this opportunity to connect with your child and reaffirm their faith in your unconditional love.

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