Small Step - Becoming a Better Parent; Dealing with Challenging Behavior
Sometimes my 8-year-old son will get in a weird mood and I won’t know what to do. When this happens I will sometimes have a knee jerk reaction and turn into a disciplining parent, an angry parent. These situations can rapidly go south and create a scenario that drives a wedge between my son and I. I know I need to intervene in this situation, but want to do it in a way that doesn’t damage our relationship, but also doesn’t allow him to get stuck a negative pattern.
Here’s a situation that happened the other day:
My son got up, he’s was in a good mood and he was feeling good. We are having a pleasant morning and really enjoying ourselves. A little while later his babysitter knocks at the door. She’s going to watch him because he doesn’t have school, but I have to work. At this point I’m not sure what happens to him, but for some reason he suddenly feels afraid and he huddles in the corner and doesn’t want to interact with me or his babysitter (whom he loves). Instead he hides, cries and freaks out. He usually loves her and can’t get enough of her, so I have no idea why he is doing this and I start to get mad. I don’t like his behavior and think that he’s just trying to get attention and cause problems. My emotions begin to escalate because I need to get to work and I just wish we could have an easy morning. Once my emotions escalate then he begins to get mean and runs away. He doesn’t want to be controlled. This is not a situation that I want to have. What could I do differently?
Bear with me here, but I’m going to get a little technical here. Quantum physics tells us that what we think about becomes our reality. In other words, if you feel fear you will attract things that scare you or things that are similar to that fear. So, when I am interacting with my son in the above scenario, his frustration leads to my frustration, leads to his frustration, ect. So, how do I stop the cycle and help him feel a little bit better? How can I get him to move through the fear to something a little better? One idea is to distract him from his fear. How can I do that? Instead of focusing on the fear and making it wrong, I could do something funny to surprise him. This would take the focus off the fear which then allows it to dissipate. I could do something funny, something unexpected, and/or playful. Children only stay in a feeling for a few minutes unless we focus on it and try to suppress it. If we do that, it gets bigger. So, as we focus on the feeling we don’t want, we engage it, which creates more of it and the spiral continues.
This scenario is also apparent when children have temper tantrums at the grocery store. Many parents gingerly enter the grocery store with young children hoping they can get in and out quickly without a meltdown. If a meltdown starts to occur, many parents try to stop it by encouraging the child to settle down. This causes the child to feel upset and that her feelings are not allowed. Because the parent is focused on the meltdown and how to avoid it, an eruption is sure to follow. Instead, if the parent refrains from focusing on undesired behavior and instead focuses in a completely different direction, the tantrum can be short lived. Instead the parent could choose to dance in front of the grocery cart, jog down the aisle pushing the cart, do spins and twirls, or a sing a Katie Perry song. This unexpected behavior will take the child by surprise and move her out of the emotion she was feeling.
Here’s another grocery store example. Let’s say a child wants a toy and the parent isn’t buying toys that day. If the parent tell the child “no” it triggers a feeling of anger in the child which may lead them off into a temper tantrum. If that happened to occur, instead of reacting negatively to the tantrum, the parent might grab two more toys and started to act out a performance. By choosing to act silly and made the child laugh, the parent is able to distract the child from his state of mind and move them out of the tantrum stance. The parent could also spent a minute engaged with the child to make them feel understood and loved. This could be coupled with a statement letting the child know that it’s ok to want the toy and that he can get a toy very soon. Something like “I know you really want that toy, it’s a very nice toy. Why don’t we write down that you would like to get this toy next time we are buying toys and we’ll come back and get it.” This teaches patience, but also allows the child to feel heard and understood. These moments contribute to building a strong bond between parent and child and they don’t take more time than dealing with a temper tantrum does.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome. It is important to honor the feelings of our children. By letting them know it is OK to feel the way they feel at a particular moment, they are then able to move on. If parents insist on being right and making children mind without acknowledging their feelings, the parent/child relationship suffers.
Great leaders don’t lead through power struggles, they lead by example and by inspiring others to follow them. Children need to be inspired too. Inspiring them is the very best thing we can do for them as a parent and a teacher. In order to thrive, children need to feel powerful, significant and to know that their feelings matter. We parents can lead that charge and improve our relationships with our children at the same time.
The next time my son exhibits this type of behavior, I will definitely take steps to act differently. I know it won’t be easy and that I won’t do a perfect job because I’ve been reacting in a negative manner for many years, but I’ll put one foot in front of the other and move towards a new way of responding instead of reacting.