The Road to Therapy is Paved with Good Intentions

In my post When Kids Push Our Buttons, I described how our “buttons” are activated when our kids say or do something to trigger the negative core beliefs we acquired in childhood.


That post was focused on you, the parent, and your own core beliefs. Today I’m turning the attention to your kids and their developing core beliefs.


As parents, we usually say and do things with the best intentions. But when our buttons get pushed, those intentions fly right out the window. We react emotionally, and end up sending messages we least intend, that we would never want our kids to believe about themselves. They internalize those messages, and behave in ways that reinforce what they perceive we expect of them.


Let me give you an example. Sarah was on the phone with a friend, and her son kept interrupting her. She tried to stay calm, but eventually barked, “Stop interrupting me! Can’t you see that I’m on the phone? Go in the other room and play until I’m finished.”


Overwhelmed and frustrated Mom in the kitchen


Her intention was to teach her son manners and to let him know that she expected him to play independently while she was on the phone. She also wanted him to understand that while he’s important to her, there are other things that require her attention at times. The message he received, however, was: I’m not important. Mom would rather talk on the phone than be with me. I’m a nuisance. And because he internalized this message, “I’m a nuisance,” he continued to act like one.


Had Sarah remained calm, she might have said something like, “Mommy’s going to be on the phone for five minutes while you play quietly, and then I’ll hang up and play with you.” Then she’d clearly be sending the message she wished to communicate.


Here’s another example: Megan noticed her daughter daydreaming instead of doing her homework. This triggered Megan because as a child, her own parents had high expectations of her when it came to grades. She reacted by snapping at her daughter: “Why aren’t you doing your homework? How do you expect to get into college by staring out the window? It’s a wonder you even made it to ninth grade.”



Megan’s intention was to motivate her daughter, but the message received was: I’m stupid. I’m lazy. Mom expects me to be perfect. I can’t do anything right.


It’s the interpretation, not the intention, of our words and behavior that creates our child’s core beliefs.


This is why I help parents become more aware of their children’s perceptions, and help them learn to stay calm enough to send the messages they actually intend to convey.


Over the next week, start paying more attention to how your messages are being received by your child after each interaction with you. What are the core beliefs that he’s acquiring? Are they positive (e.g. I’m lovable, I’m worthy of attention, I’m capable, I’m trustworthy, mistakes are learning opportunities, etc.) or negative (e.g. I’m unimportant, I’m unlovable, I’m incapable, I’m a failure if I make a mistake, I’m responsible for others’ happiness, etc.) Share your experiences or questions in the comments below.


Need help seeing things from your child’s perspective and communicating what you truly intend? Schedule a FREE mini-coaching session with me over the phone right here.


Showing 6 comments
  • Patty - Our Whole Village

    Thank you for such a great reminder. It got me thinking about a recent conversation with a friend on how confusing we make it for our children. We tend to be inconsistent in our communication. One minute we say “Eat slowly, chew. You’re gonna choke”, and the next we’re saying “Come on, we’re late. Hurry up. Eat your breakfast!”

    • Pam Howard

      Totally, Patty! Great example of the mixed messages we sometimes send and how confusing it can be to be a kid.

  • Kelly - Project Me

    Oooooh – I love a good thought provoking assignment! I’ll definitely do this Pam. Thank you!

    • Pam Howard

      Great, Kelly! I hope you’ll let me know what you discover.

  • Kristy Goodwin

    Pam, this is such a powerful post. As parents, I think we sometimes forget what a powerful influence we are in terms of our child’s development. “Interpretation, not intention”.

    • Pam Howard

      You got it, Kristy. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

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