The Sadness Technique


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Because we become so very close to our own children it is sometimes difficult for us to assist them when they choose to behave in ways that are immature, unwise, or selfish. I believe it is more difficult to deal with your own children’s misbehavior then it is to deal with the misbehavior of other people’s children. A case in point is the teacher or counselor who deals with other people’s children daily. These individuals are patient and understanding with other people’s children and have the capacity to evaluate, analyze, understand, and give advice on how to work with them. But, when their own child makes poor choices the teacher or the counselor seems to lose this calm, calculating perspective just like any other parent.

This frustration or impatience with the behavior of our children can take us down paths we never intended to travel. We find ourselves saying or doing things that our mother or father did that we promised ourselves we would never do. As we try to be the kind and understanding parent who is reasonable, loving, and wise with a child who is stubborn, disrespectful, and disobedient we may find ourselves loosing it. If we become anxious or concerned eventually we will find ourselves trying to control with anger or madness.

All parents intuitively know that getting mad never results in a positive relationship with their child. All parents intuitively know that you cannot force a child to do something he or she chooses not to do. All parents intuitively know that the temporary changes that are produced when we make children do what they are supposed to do are not necessarily permanent changes in behavior. All parents recognize that anger is not a very effective way to problem solve and does not provide a very good model for our children.

Why then do we end up behaving in ways that, in retrospect, we regret? I think it is because we want so much for our kids. I think it is because we love them and want them fixed right now. I think it is because we feel helpless. I think it is because we see the dangers that are inherent in the immature and unwise behavior our children choose and we become frustrated because everything we try does not seem to help them. I think it is because we think that we are responsible for their behavior.

If we are to rid ourselves of this tendency to “force or kids to be good” we must eventually accept a couple of simple concepts. First, we must recognize that we are not responsible and cannot control our kid’s behavior but we are responsible for and can control our own behavior. As a result we never tell a kid what they have to do but we do let them know what we will do if they make certain choices.

The second principle we must accept is that preserving the relationship between ourselves and our child is more important then making them “do the right thing.” If we can demonstrate love for our child no matter how they behave, then, when they have learned the lessons of life (even if they have to learn the hard way) they will have a friend to discuss alternatives with rather than an enemy they are trying to avoid.

But how do you hold a child accountable, control yourself, and let the child know that you love them all at the same time? Let me suggest a technique that may help. I call it the “Sadness Technique.” It works something like this.

When you feel you are starting to get Angry and are tempted to utter a Mad Statement use Sad Statement instead. When you feel Mad and are about to say, “Don’t talk to me like that. I will not tolerate that kind of behavior in this house,” become Sad and say, “How sad that you choose to be talk like that. You must be pretty upset. Just wanted to let you know I love you but I do not listen to people who do not respect me. I will be in the kitchen and when you can discuss this matter with the same respect that I give you, feel free to come and talk. Don’t worry about me. I will be trying to figure out what I need to do to help you and how much I can trust you. Hope you can pull it together. Good Luck.”

Your remakes should be tailored to your child and should be consistent with your personality and the personality of your child. When you use the “Sadness Technique” you should try to communicate understanding, love, respect, expectations, and faith in your child. When you use this technique you provide a model for your child and you become predictable.

In other words, by using the Sadness Technique you communicate that misbehavior will not affect you and that you will do whatever you have to do to help your child become the person you know they can be, not the person they are experimenting with right now. You communicate that unwise behavior cannot make you mad or less loving. You communicate that unwise behavior only has the power to sadden you and prompts you to think about what you need to do to help the precious person you love. You may have to impose consequences (which you would do anyway if you were angry.) You may have to wait before you can trust them to make wise decisions (which you would do anyway if you were angry.) But most important, you let your child know you are saddened by their behavior and will love them no matter what they do (which they would be less likely to understand it you were angry.)