In the last post, we started looking at three ideas that can help us develop the internal qualities that are necessary to become a more effective parent—if we are interested in developing positive relationships with our children so that they feel and embrace our love instead of resent it.
Some examples of the internal qualities that we can develop are patience, meekness, kindness, peace, and self-control. These qualities may be foreign to us because perhaps we didn’t grow up around them or because other areas of our lives (like work or our marriage or the very looming responsibility of parenting) create the opposite qualities in us like impatience, short-tempered-ness, harshness, conflict/chaos, or impulsiveness/undisciplined-ness.
We can steer ourselves into better waters—better for ourselves and our children (and our work and our marriage and our parenting prowess)—if we will consciously apply a few strategies to help ourselves grow steadily, even if slowly.
The first idea, addressed in the last post, was to wait. Simply wait an extra moment or two before we respond to our children, especially if we are feeling our frustration level rise. This deliberate slowing down of our response to our children will help us to be more aware of what we are saying and doing and how we are saying and doing it.
Here is the next idea.
Separate yourself from yourself. Separate from the moment. Hear/watch yourself from the outside, like an onlooker. This may sound odd, especially if we are used to just going with whatever we feel, but the truth is that we do not have to go along with our emotions. We can be separate and operate separately from our feelings and thoughts.
We may, in fact, feel very frustrated when our children are crying or whining or having a meltdown or a temper tantrum. Our frustration may be all the more intensified when we are honestly trying our best to help our children and when we are honestly trying our best to stay calm in the situation but nothing we do seems to be working.
When we begin to notice that negative emotions (and negative thoughts—because many times our thoughts are the predecessors of our emotions) are present, we need to acknowledge that they are there and then make a shift in how we proceed. If we go off of how we feel, we will most likely speak and act out of our reactionary anger instead of the deep abiding love we have in our heart for our children.
We want our children to feel our love, not endure our anger—even when they’ve done something that wasn’t the best choice. Our children know when something is off. Our anger about it only makes things worse for them and keeps them from experiencing their own guilt (which is natural and regular, not the excessive kind that is put on them by someone else) about their wrongdoing (if it’s even wrongdoing—sometimes children are having a meltdown because that’s what children do—it’s not their fault necessarily).
We want our children to make good choices because it is what they choose for themselves, not because they are trying to prevent us from being angry. This takes time and is why parenting is an ever-present, ever-happening, ever-going thing.
So when we notice that negative emotions are present within us, we need to proceed in a different way than simply reacting to how our children are being. The most foolish way to parent is to base our reaction on our children. We should view our words and actions as thoughtful response instead of mere reaction. Also, we should already have in mind how we want to be with our children (which is (hopefully) loving, kind, and good). It doesn’t matter how our children are acting or not acting. We can still choose to be loving, kind, and good to and with our children, regardless of how they are being to and with us.
Separating from ourselves and our emotions as we proceed involves choosing the high road. It is much easier to “lose it” and just say whatever we want and do whatever we want to show that we are angry with our children or to show that they need to behave differently. But the truth of it all is that our children will not likely learn how to behave much differently than how we treat them. If we treat them with compassion, mercy, and grace (and of course tough love as the situation warrants it, like if there are natural and logical consequences in the balance), then our children will get the message that we will always love and accept them no matter what. And as our children become developmentally more capable of making better choices, then we can support them in that path.
Too often, we are expecting way too much out of our children when they simply are not ready or able to do what we are requiring of them. And then to get angry with them or to punish them for things that are not developmentally appropriate just adds fuel to the fire. Separating from the moment helps us to be the grown-up parent that we want to be without being unnecessarily harsh, temperamental, or un-empathetic.
If we’re dealing with usual and regular things like how our children show resistance to putting away toys or brushing teeth or limiting sugary snacks or getting ready for school or going to bed, then separating ourselves from the situation is a matter of staying calm and in control of our own selves; continuing to use a neutral, adult voice; and staying consistent and persistent in what we expect of our children.
There is always the chance that our children will end up making a choice that complicates our lives greatly (like, if they don’t put their toys away, then our house will look like a hoarder’s—or if they don’t brush their teeth, then all their teeth will turn black and fall out—or if they keep eating sugary snacks, then they will be the fat kid at school that no one wants to play with or go out with (not to mention the preventable health problems they will have to deal with later on down the road)—or if they don’t get ready for school, then they will miss the bus and that’s not something we want to deal with—or if they don’t go to bed then we’re all losing sleep).
But we can’t let the fear of these sorts of outcomes distract us or derail us from staying focused in the moment and from maintaining our resolve to be cool, calm, and collected as we confidently do this highly complex job of parenting effectively.
We will cover the third and last idea in another post.
Do you find that separating from the situation (like through playing a persona) helps you to respond better to your children?