Helping a young do-gooder lower the judgment meter

Your child loves to adopt a cause (green living, veganism, etc.). But she harangues folks around her to the point of exhaustion. Should you tell her to ease up?

Parent advice


(from our panel of staff contributors)

It's great when kids develop a social conscience and start advocating for a better world. Terrific, in fact. But when this advocacy takes the form of condemning the lifestyles and choices of others, it's time to administer a gentle but firm reality check. You might say, "Yeah, I know that I've made horrible choices in life and that my selfish generation and the ones preceding mine are ruining things for forward-thinking people like you. But you know, my disgraceful way of living puts clothes on your back, food in your mouth and a roof over your head, and until you're ready to renounce all these things, maybe you ought to scale back the Judgment Meter just a bit." If your little crusader is imposing her act on other relatives or, worse, total strangers, you should tell her to ease up before she gets killed. It's OK to be vague about who might do the killing.


Explain the "you can catch more flies with honey" concept, and suggest she tone down her pitch. Admirable causes don't need to be shouted; their points can generally be made logically, smartly. Loud and annoying haranguing doesn't work.


Expert advice

Your child is thoughtful and conscientious and tireless. And you have a big, fat "teaching moment" on your hands. Good news all around!

"This is a golden opportunity to raise your child's self-awareness about how she comes across to other people," says family psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of "The Self-Aware Parent" (Palgrave Macmillan). "Self-examination and self-exploration are really good skills to have. Kids need to know when a good thing is a good thing and when too much of a good thing is a turnoff."

Think Girl Scout cookies for a moment. In order to make the selling process fun and profitable, Walfish says, parents should prep their little peddlers.

"You want to raise your child's awareness how they come across, how they pitch, how they accept no for an answer, how they deal with disappointment," says Walfish.

And so it is when your child is selling her cause.

"Mom or dad has to help slow the child down and instill a little empathy for the buyer," Walfish says. "'We are so excited that you're doing this, but if we come on too big with our excitement we might push people away, so let's tone it down a notch.'"


Helping your child get outside of her own head will also help.

"Use a series of gentle, nonjudgmental, open-ended questions," Walfish says. "'What do you think that lady was thinking when you took a step toward her? How do you think she was feeling? What do you think you might do differently next time?'"

And equally important is helping your child handle disappointment when her pleas are rebuffed.

"If your child goes quickly to disappointment and even anger or fury when someone rejects her proposition, the way for you to help is to not walk away, to not blame or judge or take a side, but rather to ride the crest of your child's powerful feelings right along with them," Walfish says. "Your child will learn, 'I have a parent who will stay with me when I am at my worst. She will not abandon me or ridicule me.'

"You're teaching her reality," Walfish says. "More disappointments are coming, but you're equipping her with the social skills and the coping skills for letdowns."

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