What parent hasn’t felt the emotion welling up within? Frustration, exhaustion, anger, confusion. These emotional responses are normal and impossible to avoid from time to time over the course of parenthood. The problem is that when we approach our children from this emotional state, we often respond to the moment impulsively with reactions that actually fuel the fire and have an impact that is the opposite of what we would like to see happen. In other words, our reactions actually make things worse!
Most of us, if not all of us, have been there. They are crying, we are frustrated. We get louder, they cry harder. We feel more frustrated and on and on….Ironically, most of these situations can easily be very different if we, as parents, are able to respond differently. The next time you find yourself responding from a place of frustration, exhaustion, or anger, take a deep breath and try one of these alternative responses instead. You may be surprised at the immediate difference.
|If you want to say…||…try this instead.||Why it Works|
|“Because I said so!”||“Why do you think we might need to do it that way?”||This response usually signals that we have entered into a power struggle with our child over something pretty basic (putting on shoes, jackets, etc.) The child might be simply refusing to find power. Asking the child what she thinks turns her into a participant in the moment, rather than an object to be controlled. On the other hand, if the best response you have is “Because I said so,” it may be a sign that you need to let it go. Maybe you chose a battle that doesn’t need to be fought.|
|“I have asked you [3, 10, 100] times not to do that. You’re going to get hurt! Stop!”||“I notice you’re doing X, I’m worried about Y. What do you think?”||Our kids are never too young to start thinking about the natural consequences of their actions. Modeling and encouraging them to notice and think about the social, spatial and emotional relationships among themselves and others teaches them about the world, rather than simply forcing their behavior. It’s the difference between supportive parenting and micromanaging.|
|“I can’t take [this, you, it] anymore.”||“I’m feeling so frustrated right now. I’m going to take a minute to breathe and think. What are you going to do?”||You can and should let your kids know that you have real feelings too. This response lets you model healthy and helpful coping skills.|
|“STOP hitting your brother!”||Physically block aggressive behavior, if necessary, while saying, “You’re so angry! I’m not going to let you hurt him, but what do you want him to know?”||The goal is to reinforce the avoidance of violence while at the same time acknowledging the valid emotion and offering a pro-social way to express that emotion. Simply trying to stop the behavior doesn’t work. The child is left with internal angst that she doesn’t have an outlet for. I have written in more detail about this here.|
|“You are out of control!” or “Get in control!”||“Sam, what are your feet doing right now? What are your arms doing right now? Can you feel your tummy?”or “Raise your hand if you can hear me.”or “Can you make your legs move verrrryyyy slllllooowwwwly? Can you make your body into a ball?”||Sometimes kids can start spinning out of control. Many times, when this happens, it is almost as if their bodies are on autopilot, crashing around and waiting for something or someone to reel them in. Rather than physically restraining them, try helping them connect their thoughts with their bodies. Bringing their awareness to what is going on with their body can teach them to control themselves, rather than having us do it for them. This also helps to create a space that allows them to get into control. Does your child need a bigger space in that moment? Or maybe your child needs the opposite, a smaller space.|
|“Why are you crying?!?!” or “That’s nothing to cry about.” or “Stop crying.”||“Oh, you’re so sad! What can I do for you?”||Why the child is crying really doesn’t matter. Remember, to you it’s just a blue sippy cup. To the child, it’s his world. The emotion is strong and that’s what matters. Sometimes all that children need is for someone to acknowledge that their emotion is real. Asking what they think they need helps them learn how to start taking care of themselves and identify their own coping mechanisms for processing and handling emotion.|
|“Why aren’t your shoes on yet???”||“Here, let’s do it together….” or “It’s time for shoes. What do you need to do first to take care of that?”||If you have had to tell a child several times to do something and it isn’t happening, it may not be about the child. Maybe your expectations are off. Telling the child to do it again isn’t going to change anything. Rather, you need to do something differently. Most likely, the child’s failure to follow through is her way of telling you that she is having trouble orienting herself to the moment, prioritizing, focusing, etc. Breaking down the steps, walking the child through it, or helping the child organize the task will facilitate the process and meet everyone’s needs.|
Immediate, emotionally driven responses strive for control of a situation and result in shame and the suppression of feelings. They essentially exclude the child from the process. This leaves everyone feeling disconnected and alone. There is a sense of pressure for an immediate expected outcome. In contrast, the alternative responses engage the child, ask for his input, and give him responsibility and autonomy in the process while allowing for flexibility in the outcome. We, as parents, can relax into roles as empathic supporters and guides, rather than feeling pressured to be omniscient rulers of all things—a frustrating job when our subjects have a mind of their own!
Does it work? Try some of these responses and let us know what happens!