Popular Parenting Myths No. 4: I Love You... But I Don't Like Your Behavior
By Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D. 

Parenting advice has to make sense to be worth considering – but it has to have a lot more to it than that. In the 25 years that I’ve been a parenting psychologist guiding parents with typical childrearing issues, I’ve seen some advice elevated to an absolute belief – never examined, just accepted as truth.

Parents are finding that some of these beliefs need to be held up to the light, because the results don’t live up to the promises. Some myths need to be updated and corrected to help parents do the thoughtful, wise, validated childrearing job they’re trying to.

Myth: When you correct your child's behavior, always tell him, “I love you, but I don't like your behavior,” so he doesn't feel bad about himself. Parents seem to believe that children will hear both messages and feel loved by their parents for who they are and at the same time understand that their behavior was not acceptable or tolerable.

Children can't separate their behavior from who they are, so the message from their parents doesn't make sense to them. Some children disregard it and  others are confused by it -- but children don't actually understand or believe it and therefore are not really reassured by it. In fact, adults would not be any more likely to believe this message if someone said that to us. Imagine that you had been difficult and obnoxious to your spouse for days and he said, “I love you, but I can't stand how you're behaving.” Most of us would realize that he can't stand who we are at this time. It would be pretty hard for anyone to love us when we behaved that way.

What seems to underlie this myth is that as parents, we  don't want to say, “When you behave that way, I don't love you.” But rather than tell him something that doesn't make sense, we can say, “When you talk to me that way (or pull my arm or destroy your train or doll or hurt your brother), I'm not happy with you.  It's hard to be with you until you stop screaming  (or destroying your train or doll).”  Children need that feedback and are not so fragile that you have to remind them that you love them even as you correct them for their misbehavior. Linking the two both confuses children and weakens the  message that we have to point out in order to correct their misbehavior. What's the most useful way to phrase your correction so that children don't take it as a message that they're a bad person?  “I don't like it when anyone does that” or “... treats their sister (or me) that way. It's my job to help you learn how to behave. Here's what we'll do now to work on this.” Then have your child go to timeout, practice better behavior, lose time cooking or doing something special with you, or face another consequence. The book Why Do I Have To? by this author has a Parents' Guidance Section that suggests many effective consequences that help children learn better behavior.

Your involvement in teaching your child better behavior is what shows your love. Parents who don't  have effective ways to help their children's behavior change are not doing their job –  and that's what makes a child feel less cared about.

Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent psychologist and a specialist in childrearing and child development for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning books Mommy and Daddy are Always Supposed to Say Yes … Aren’t They?, Why Do I Have To?, I Like To Eat Treats,  I Don't Want to Go to the Toilet, I Want To Make Friends and I'm Getting Ready For Kindergarten. These are all-in-one books with a story for preschoolers and a manual for parents. Her new series is for elementary school childen and their parents. The first book is Why Can't I Be the Boss of Me? (2015). For more information about her books and to read her articles, visit To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to

Perfecting Parenting Press 2015