Webster’s says the definition of unconditional love is: "Affection with no limits or conditions." I agree that you need to love your child through everything. But does that mean there should be no boundaries, no corrections, or no consequences. I don’t think so. I believe that love includes boundaries, corrections and consequences. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say those things are part of the definition of love.
I do not believe that punishment, spanking, or anger need to be part of correcting a child. I believe that teaching a child the rules of how to get along in life and allowing the consequences of not following the rules to play out are the best choices a parent can make, as long as the parent is calm, loving and supportive while teaching those things.
Here’s a quick example. Suppose you’re on the phone and your child begins talking to you. Because you love your child you say, “I’m on the phone, I’ll talk to you when I’m done” then you return to the call. If your child waits till you get off the phone, wonderful.
However, what if your child continues to talk to you and ask questions? Does the definition of unconditional love, “Affection with no limits or conditions” mean that you should stop the conversation again and again to answer your child’s questions?
Think about what you’re really teaching your child before you answer my question. Think about this from a child’s point of view.
You may think that stopping the phone conversation to answer her questions shows her that she comes first in your life, and that you will always be there for her.
If you look at this from your child’s point of view, what your child is actually learning is that your rules mean nothing. By stopping the conversation to answer her questions she comes to believe that she has the right to interrupt adults any time she likes because she’s always the most important person in the room. That belief won’t work for her in real life, in school or with peers.
There is a way to give your child unconditional love and teach her at the same time. You have to be willing to see the bigger picture though. The bigger picture looks at how giving in to her demands now will play out in the moment, and in the future. You’ll also have to expand your definition of unconditional love to include a willingness to risk temporarily upsetting her so she can learn.
You don’t need to be angry, and you don’t need to punish her to teach her that she has to wait till you’re off the phone.
Here’s what you do.
When your child begins to interrupt you, silently point to the phone and wave for your child to come closer. This is counterintuitive. Most of the time you’d wave for her to go away because you’re on the phone, but that will only increases her chatter. (Of course, if something is really wrong then you have to address it, now!) By waving for her to come closer you’re using unconditional love to invite her to “silently” come and get some love.
Once she’s close enough, begin to rub her back. Keep rubbing her back as you talk on the phone and ignore her questions. Try not to make eye contact. She will most likely get frustrated that you aren't answering her questions, push your hand away and go off to do something else while you're on the phone. You're teaching her delayed gratification, respect and patience, and that's a good thing.
If she throws a tantrum, slowly move away and continue talking for a moment or two before getting off the phone to address the situation. Here again, you're not ending the call because of her reaction. You may need to do this a few times to make it clear that you are no longer willing to be interrupted while on the phone. Sooner rather than later she will accept this. She will have learned that she is welcome to come in to get some love when you're on the phone, but is not allowed to interrupt you.
This act of unconditional love gives her what she truly wants, attention, while making the clear statement “you need to be aware when someone is talking on the phone.” This really does work
When the call is over make sure to reconnect. Take a moment to say, “I’m off the phone now, what did you need?” Reconnecting gives you the opportunity to express, “I’m always here for you, but being aware of what others are doing is an important skill I have to teach you.”
It is possible to give unconditional love and boundaries at the same time.
I hope this was helpful. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.
We’ll chat again tomorrow.