You Can Do It

Sometimes the Line Is Fine, but It’s Still Important to Walk It Anyway

Yeah, sometimes if our children aren’t listening, we’ve got to speak more firmly, speak with greater volume, speak a little more directly.  But we still don’t need to outright yell about it.  We can get our point and the point across without having a full-throttle melt-down of our own.  It’s completely unhelpful to the situation if we don’t distinguish ourselves as the adult in the room.

I know it’s hard.  I’ve been there way too many times to feel comfortable admitting.  Even still, I’ve been there.  Even, like, yesterday.  (Today is yet young, so I’m off the hook at this present moment.)  But if we are serious about being effective parents, then it is important for us to understand why child-friendly parenting approaches work to our advantage—even though employing them may go against our nature or our own upbringing.

To take the example at hand (our children aren’t listening and we’re tempted to yell to get them to listen and/or because we are frustrated about it), what do you think engages a child’s attention?  When they are playing with cars, legos, trains, or their action figures or when they are glued to a TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone screen, it isn’t because someone is forcing them to do so or is yelling at them about it.  They are tuned in to something that engages them—something is attracting and holding their attention, perhaps something funny, interesting, silly, comforting, or amazing.

So if we want to attract and hold our children’s attention, then we will need to engage them in some way—we will need to tune in to them and to what turns on their brain.  With younger children, if you can be funny or silly, you have it in the bag.  Every single time.  But the catch is that we, as the parents (and especially the stay-at-home mom, who doesn’t always have a fresh mind space) aren’t always in the mood to be funny or silly.  We are exactly the opposite of that because of work or tension levels or the simple need to get a move on.  Being funny or silly is simply not a priority.  (Neither is it to be interesting, comforting, amazing, or any other way that would naturally engage a child’s brain.)

But if we really want to make things easier on ourselves and on our children (in other words, if we really want a win-win situation), then we will need to choose to step outside of our moods so that we can engage our children on their level and not ours.  This is the only way that everyone wins.  If we try to engage our children on our level (like with yelling), it just won’t work.  Our children shut down.  We get more and more frustrated.  And then there is discord that really didn’t need to be there.

So sometimes the line is fine—the line between being no-nonsense about stuff and going overboard with our delivery (like the line between using a firm, I-mean-what-I’m-saying voice and using a harsh, mean, I’m-trying-to-make-you-feel-bad voice).  But we have to find that line regardless of its fine-ness and we need to walk it.  If we step over the line and enter into un-friendly-to-kids territory (like with the yelling), then we lose our opportunity to reel our children in the right way.  It only goes downhill (un-complimentarily so) from there.

If you can, default to funny, interesting, silly, comforting, and/or amazing tactics.  But if you can’t bring yourself to use any one of these personas, then at the very least, hold steady with being neutrally no-nonsense about the requests you make with your children.  Be business-like about it.  Play a role.  Step outside yourself until the moment has passed.  Do what you’ve got to do to walk that line as skillfully and confidently as you can.  As difficult as that can be sometimes, it’s way easier than crossing over into nagging parent land, enraged parent mode, or the very twilight zone of parent-meltdown-that-rivals-a-toddler’s—and then having to navigate your way back to the “Grown-up Adult” town.

How do you walk the line between responding appropriately and over-reacting to your children?