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Parent series: Are you in judgment mode?

Noticing judgments is the first step to changing your reactivity to your teen

“The ability to evaluate, classify, criticize, and judge is unique to human beings, and we’re… Click To Tweet” (Zurita Ona, 2017, p. 24)

You may think that a piece of furniture is “ugly,” a person “pretty,” or an argument “stupid.” These judgments happen constantly, without your awareness, to nearly everything around us, and yes, this includes your kids. Sometimes your mind tells you they are “adorable,” or “good”, and other times, your mind sees them as “lazy,” “foolish,” or even “manipulative.”

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with the judgments your mind is coming up with; the problem arises when you take your judgments as facts and do exactly what they tell you to do. For example, if you get hooked on that thought that your child is manipulative, you may want to “show them what’s what” and take away privileges, or staunchly refuse to engage them for a while. Do you relate to that? Have you been there?

There is nothing inherently wrong with the judgments your mind comes up with Click To Tweet

The question here is not whether or not your behavior is the “correct” parenting behavior (another judgment we are not here to make), but for you to decide whether taking your thoughts as absolute truth and taking action in the moment escalate or de-escalate the conflict or if it helps you to be the parent you want to be. It’s your call—no one better than you can answer this question.

 

If you’re in judgment land when parenting your teen, here is what to do with those judgment thoughts:
1. Notice: The first step is to even notice your judgments. You can apply this to a myriad of things: the room you’re sitting in, or the last person you noticed on the street, to name a few. What are the things that your mind, seemingly with its own will, says about these things, situations, or people?
Sometimes, noticing and acknowledging judgment thoughts– is the hardest part. When you notice your head is spinning from all the thoughts and counter-thoughts swirling through your mind, take a moment to sit., write them down using the format “My mind says that…”
A list could include things like, “My mind says that I’m gross for what I ate earlier today.” “My mind says that my teen is irrational and manipulative.” “My mind says that my boss is stupid.”

Notice what reactions you had during or after writing these judgements down.

2. Describe: See if you can describe what you see, hear, feel, taste, touch etc. Describing means reporting things as they are. What does the room actually look like? What did that person on the street wear; how did they walk? What behaviors did your teen do?
When you are used to look at judgment thoughts as facts, describing can end up being judgment thoughts as well. It can take deliberate practice to begin to separate the two, and as challenging as it sounds, it’s doable.. For example, take a judgment thought you have and come up with a description:

This could look like this:
Judgment thought: “That shirt is really ugly”
Description: “The shirt has bright colors I don’t usually wear”
Judgment thought: “My kid is so lazy and unmotivated”
Description: “They don’t get up until 11am, and play video games for three hours on Saturdays”

3. Choose: After noticing the judgment thoughts that show up in your mind, describing what you actually see, hear, sense, etc, then you’re ready to choose how you want to respond in the moment, instead of the judgment thoughts choosing for you.

Separating yourself from your thoughts gives you a choices in the midst of dealing with… Click To Tweet

Learning to notice the ongoing activity of the judgment machine without getting trapped, hooked, or caught on it, is called defusion. One way to practice defusion is noticing the theme amongst the judgments and criticisms directed at your teen, and then give that voice a name, like “Mr. Never-Good-Enough” or “Susan Self-Righteous.”

With ongoing practice, you will be able to slow down and choose to be the parent you want to be, instead of having our thoughts and emotions decide it for you.

Parenting a Troubled Teen: Manage Conflict and Deal with Intense Emotions Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dr. Zurita Ona