Have you ever tried to change someone?
Have you said or heard the following?
“Why are you doing it like this?” “What’s wrong with you?” “You’re not listening!” “I’ve already shown you a million times!” “You’re so slow!” “You forgot to do X again. I ALWAYS have to remind you!” “I can’t depend on you for anything.” “I’ll just do it.”
It’s okay, many of us have been there, and it’s not always easy. It seems to be a thing that happens a lot, though. This idea that we know how someone should behave or change comes with the best intentions, and yet, it’s not taken this way. Whether it’s friends, family, coworkers, classmates, lovers, or children, we tend to tell them how to change, where it comes off as a criticism or demand.
Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of this where someone is telling you all the things you’re doing wrong, and you end up feeling like a failure. It doesn’t feel good, and can even lead to feelings of resentment or deep sadness. There are good intentions, and yet the delivery is not working. The outcome is hurt feelings and conflict. The same thing can happen when we are trying to shape children in our lives. We know and see how the world is, and want to build skills for success.
So what do we do? We identify the things they are doing wrong. We knit-pick at how these things are incorrect and how they should be doing it. We end up doing it ourselves.
How does this affect a person?
It could lead to feelings of inferiority, a negative self-concept, or pairing negative emotions with “help.” Some people who were constantly told they were doing things wrong learn to distance themselves from asking or receiving help. This distrust of others may shape their world view; that it’s better to do things alone without the harsh criticisms of others.
Another possible outcome is those who were only given attention for “messing up” or being “bad” continually increased these types of behaviors in order to get attention. It is a repetitious cycle that can be difficult to change. Children who received attention when making mistakes or behaving negatively may internalize this identity of “being” bad and a failure which could carry into adulthood.
The above could be an extreme example, but I’ve come across some adults who’ve been impacted by early experiences where they have a difficult time trusting others because they are afraid of negative criticisms and being made fun of. This can especially be the case for those who are/have*:
*sensitive, Autistic, twice-exceptional (2e) gifted, gifted, ADHD, learning or auditory processing differences, delayed speech, invisible and visible conditions that affect mobility, cognition, or other bodily functions like chronic illness.
*An added layer to the physical body is inherited traumas, mental illness or conditions, unmet basic needs, systemic oppression, how accepted or safe they are at home, language or cultural barriers; some things that many people mask when attempting to overcome and thrive.
Are the above items things that affect each person we want to help? Maybe, maybe not. It can be a compassionate step to consider how someone is experiencing the world as we attempt to walk along their journeys and offer support towards change. This understanding may help with offering kindness, patience, and compassion for those who are having a harder time with being asked to change, even from someone who cares.
Catching Them When They’re Good (Dr. Robert Myers)
This phrase is from a child development course about a decade ago, and it’s helped me in professional settings and personal relationships. This is simply that: look for the positive and good, as difficult as it may be for certain people. Identify it with specific language and praise people.
Imagine a person where important figures in life only gave attention or talked to them when they made mistakes or behaved poorly. Moments of curiosity, goodness, or quiet were ignored.
Now, offer this person praise for doing something small, like opening the door for you, or helping clean up after dinner. Thank them and share gratitude for their presence. Being grateful for someone just for being alive! How novel~
I just spoke with someone who did not get praised growing up, and they responded by saying how “life-changing” it would be if their parents or any adults in their home gave them attention when they were trying to ask questions or do well in school. They noted how this early experience shaped a negative series of relationship exchanges where they act out and repeat this cycle of looking for the bad in others.
While this, again, is not the case for everyone, it is noted that early experiences and intense moments in life can and do shape the physical, emotional, and mental health of many of us. As children or adults, we may have the lens of looking for the negative in ourselves and others, even when we want to encourage positive changes.
Examples of praise, gratitude, and catching them when they’re good:
(Mixed examples for children, family, partners, friends, family)
Thank you for being quiet while I was on the phone.
I see you using your hands gently (for kiddos who need help being safe and gentle).
I love it when you give me hugs just because.
I appreciate the space you give when I’m upset, and you slowly checking in to see if I need anything.
I really appreciated it when you washed the dishes for me yesterday.
When I asked you to get ready for dinner, you did it so quickly.
I really like it when you have your backpack ready in the morning so we’re not late or in a rush.
Thank you for saving me a seat this morning.
Nice work trying to brush your teeth!
I saw how you tried really hard on your homework today.
Thank you for listening to my problem and not trying to give advice right away. I know how solving problems is how you show care, and I see how you tried.
I appreciated when you saved the last slice of pizza for me. It made me feel special.
Thanks for getting me a coffee this morning!
I LOVE how safely you’re playing with your toys right now!
Thank you for sitting with me quietly while I figure out my problem. I needed time to sort things in my head and a bunch of questions would make me more frustrated.
Although these statements are a small start, it can lead to great changes. Starting small is tangible, more realistic, and easier. We can build on small successes to promote longer-lasting positive changes. :) Sometimes one positive statement can stay with a person for a lifetime. You never know if your words will change a person’s life.