Have you ever felt so frustrated with your children you scream? Yet after you have reacted explosively or blamefully you see your wounded children’s faces. You hear their defensive reactivity and know they are trying to shield their hearts. You want to change.
Recently a dad and I were discussing children’s ability to emotionally self-regulate. He said he agreed that young children are still learning about their emotions. He then added, “What about me? I make judgements about my children and I go from neutral to anger in a flash. Especially when my child loses it or refuses to do as I ask. How can I change? It’s like I’m freewheeling and need emotional trainer wheels as a parent.”
He’s not the only parent I’ve met in over 35 years of working with parents who has been challenged on this front.
So what trips your trigger? Often reactivity comes from your underlying beliefs, your expectations about how you think children should behave and how you think you should behave as a parent. Your first thoughts might be, “I’m not going to let my child get away with this just to get what they want”, or, “They should show some self-control”.
Peeling back the layers that led to these thoughts, you might believe that children should respect authority. You might also believe that, as a parent, you need to be in control of your child and if you are not in control you are a “bad” parent.
You might also believe that the only way to get a child to change is to use any one of the following coercive options: threaten, bribe, punish, say 1-2-3, ground them, or give timeout. These beliefs arise out of fear and often limited information.
Ultimately, parents everywhere tell me they want their child to grow up to be responsible, respectful adults and they themselves want to be loving role models to their children.
The disconnect happens when you don’t know how to effectively achieve this and you rely on outdated, unloving and fear-based methods that serve to alienate your child, place your child in the role of a culprit, and leave them fearful and even dependent on you.
These methods may appear to bring quick ‘results’ but they don’t bring productive and lasting change, respectful relationships, or intrinsically motivated children such as achieved by using the Parent Effectiveness Training skills based model of parenting.
The combination of your judgmental thoughts and beliefs culminates in your feeling unhappy and then angry. Therefore, to change your intense reaction and feelings it makes sense to firstly change your thoughts and beliefs and secondly learn new assertive parenting skills.
When you decide to change your underlying beliefs about children and about your role as a parent you can free yourself to choose and use a more loving and helpful response rather than resort to an angry reaction. It is interesting how we accept the essential need to upgrade our skills in the workplace and invest time in study for our career yet cling to outdated methods of parenting that have been shown to cause harm.
One parent I recently helped decided to change her thinking from, “My child is such a pain. I’m always yelling at her”, to, “My child is learning to manage her emotions. I role model empathy and guide her assertively.” But that’s not all.
This same parent started to use the ABC approach when she felt anger rising. She Acknowledged her anger and it began to subside, she Breathed deeply and reaffirmed her new beliefs about children and parenting. She asked herself and visualized what she most wanted – harm or helping. This pause gave her time to be Curious about the needs of her daughter and her own needs as a parent. Next she made a Choice to use effective assertive parenting skills. Sometimes she forgot and the anger surfaced before she took a pause. At those times she apologized and proceeded with ABC.
What about you? What judgmental beliefs about your child and your parenting role might you change today? State them in a positive way and what you want to happen. Write them down (this helps form new pathways in the brain), pin them up, and say them frequently to replace the old ones. Choose to do a P.E.T. course in your locality. You will now be speaking and living the loving truth of what you really want.
Until next time – peaceful parenting!
First published in Kathryn’s website The Parent Within.