Bad parenting: back from the brink

The Happiness Project Blog Logo

This morning I almost made a classic bad-parenting move: denying a bad feeling.


We began the day at 6:30 a.m. with the Big Girl claiming, “No one’s paying attention to me. Everyone pays more attention to the Baby. Even when she’s ripping my book or pulling my hair, no one cares.”


This is absurd, and I started to snap back with the usual, “She’s too little to know what she’s doing, and how can you say no one’s paying attention to you? We played eight games of Uno yesterday,” etc., etc.


Just in time, I remembered the principle I’d recently re-read in the greatest parenting books of all time, Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. (It’s a parenting book but the principles apply equally well to dealing with other adults.)


They say: Don’t refuse to acknowledge someone’s feelings of anger, irritation, or reluctance; instead, name the feeling and articulate the other person’s point of view.  This is much harder to do than it sounds, because the urge to correct a bad feeling is very strong: “you can’t be hungry,” “you love Tae Kwon Do,” “you always have fun at parties.”


But I gave it a shot. “You wish people would pay more attention to you? You’re feeling neglected?” She nodded.


“Come here,” I said, “let me give you a big hug.”


As simple as it was, that did the trick. And the nice thing about this approach was that not only did it work, I felt nice doing it, while that other kind of arguing puts me in a bad mood.


From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter “5 things making me happy”.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.