How To Raise Non-Judgmental Children

Posted by on Apr 7, 2016

How To Raise Non-Judgmental Children

My 5 year old son and I are driving by our new neighbor’s house.  He enthusiastically starts waving, rolls down the window and says, “Hi!  Hi!”  His excitement is contagious, so I start waving too.  Our neighbor stands there, looking at us as we pass his house.

“Well he wasn’t very friendly,” I say.  Then I pause.  I can feel the twinge of judgment in my body, manifesting as a slight tightness in my throat and chest.  I aspire to use and teach Non-Violent Communication (NVC) in my house, and I’ve just broken the first guideline, which is to make observations instead of judgments.

Being Aware of Self-Judgment

I could go down the self-judgment road, “What a great role model you are!”  “Hypocrite!”  However, I’ve learned after enduring years of self-judgment, aka self-torture, that it never leads anywhere other than to a deep, dark, depressed hole.  So instead I seize the opportunity as a teachable moment.
“Was that an observation or a judgment?” I ask my son.
“Judgment.”  He replies.
“What’s the observation?”  I ask.
“He didn’t wave back.”  He states simply.

I immediately feel a sense of relief.  That’s it.  He didn’t wave back.  I don’t know anything other than that.

The Connection Between Compassion and Non-Judgment

A large part of raising compassionate children is learning to think and communicate non-judgmentally, which is extremely difficult.  We are all marinating in a judgmental, cultural soup that is constantly telling us exactly what is wrong with us, and so, we judge ourselves.  We then judge our children.  This can be subtle.  Whenever we give our children the message that we do not accept them for who they are, we are judging them.  When we judge them, we are in turn teaching them to judge others which is a barrier to compassion.  Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron writes, “Only in an open, non-judgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling.  Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.”

How do we attempt to raise children that are non-judgmental and compassionate?

1.  We have to start with ourselves.  Becoming aware of our own judgments, and how they manifest through our language, is the foundation.  We can’t teach what we don’t know and practice.  Practice using observations about yourself and your child’s behavior instead of judgments.
2.  Look for opportunities in everyday life to teach the skill.  Notice small, benign experiences to start.  The story I told about my neighbor is an example. Once you start paying attention, you will notice that judgment is happening all the time. Once you notice it, see if you can re-frame the judgmental thought into an observation or factual statement.
3.  Remember that young children are by nature non-judgmental.  Children don’t come into the world thinking judgmentally.  They are natural observers, and they observe everything!  Anyone who has tried to walk from a car to a store with a toddler knows what I mean.  So how do they become judgmental?  They learn it from adults!  A 2 year old might say, “I fell down,” whereas a 4 year old, having learned to be judgmental of himself, might say, “I’m so stupid I fell down.”
4.  Notice it in times of conflict.  The next time you find yourself in a conflict with your child, see if you can make an observation.  “I’m noticing your pajamas aren’t on.”  “I see your toys on the floor.”  “The clock says that it’s 7:30, which is the time we need to leave the house.”  Judgment is a huge barrier to conflict resolution.  The next time you find yourself in a conflict, pause, and see if you can translate your judgments into observable facts or behaviors.  This will help create a shared reality and will lessen conflict.
5.  Remember that it’s difficult!  Rosenberg validates that by quoting Krishnamurti, “Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence,” in his book, Non-Violent Communication.  Observing instead of judging can feel like swimming against the current.  It’s not going to be easy, and, with practice, it will get easier!
Have questions about using NVC with your child?  I’d love to hear from you!  I can’t seem to get enough of talking about NVC! Email me at:

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