Are there times when your children’s behavior bothers you more than others? Are there times when they just seem more annoying? Do you ever ask yourself, why can’t I feel more sane with my parenting? As parents we are more likely to react to our children’s misbehavior when we are feeling stressed, tired, in a rush or there is something emotional going on. Under these circumstances, our children’s normal behavior can become a major irritant.
In order to change your reaction as a parent, you have to first understand why children do the things they do. All behavior has a purpose and is a form of communication. Think about it. Can your two-year-old come up to you and say, “Hey, Mom, I’m feeling a little disenfranchised today. Can we find a way for me to have more appropriate power?” No, of course not! A two-year-old who feels powerless is more likely to throw themselves down in the middle of a crowded grocery store aisle and loudly proclaim their deep need for marshmallows to the whole world while you cringe at their side. Or refuse to go to bed. Or eat their peas. Or go pee-pee in the potty. (Parenting Quick Tip: You can’t make a child eat, pee, poop or sleep no matter how hard you try.)
All behavior has a purpose. All misbehavior is a form of communication. Everyone, including parents and children, has certain basic needs that have to be met:
1. They need to feel free.
2. They need to feel loved.
3. They need to pursue joy.
4. They need to experiment and explore so that they can grow.
When children have these needs appropriately met, according to developmental ages and stages, they will develop healthy self-esteem and feel self-empowered. You can teach children how to get their needs met. It takes about 18 years! Which is why parenting with a long-term strategy is crucial for long-term success as a parent. As a Family Coach, I encourage parents to have a long-term vision for their parenting journey and to address all parenting situations with the long-term goal in mind.
What skills and values do you want your child to have as an adult? It is very easy to parent in the short run. But sometimes we short-change our children key learning experiences when we do not parent with the long-term goal in mind. Long-term parenting can look messy, especially to in-laws, but the pay-off is healthy, empowered teenagers who can make good, clear decisions and who are peer-pressure resistant.
Here is good example. We are currently in election season. My neighbor down the street, who is pretty conservative politically, has a teenage son who has a large “Kinky Friedman for Governor” election sign posted in his bedroom window. Now this sign makes my neighbor’s toes curl.
I asked him the other day why he let his son post the sign in his window. He replied that he wanted his son to be accepted for who he is and to feel supported in expressing himself, even if it was different from his family’s values. Yes, in the short run it would have been easier to forbid his son to post the sign. But, in the long run, think about what his son is learning!
No wonder we sometimes feel crazy!
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MAINTAIN YOUR SANITY
1. Take Care Of Yourself. You have to take care of yourself first to be a good parent. If you are exhausted, burned-out, tired, hungry, stressed, depressed or you’ve just been cooped up in the house watching Barney re-runs for days on end, you won’t have the reserves to be the patient, long-term parent that you want to be.
2. Model Self-Control. Your children watch you like a hawk. You can not tell your children one thing and do another or else you will be training them to be liars. If you want your children to have self-control, you have to show them what it looks like!
That means you need to speak softly, follow through on your word, listen to your children and treat them respectfully, take a break if you are losing control, use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), eat a healthy, balanced diet, don’t watch too much TV, only date good people who take care of you, have a healthy marriage, be honest….you get the point.
3. Use Actions and Not Words. Your children are watching you like a hawk. They are also listening to you carefully if they know you walk your talk. If you threaten to take away a toy and then don’t follow through, you are training your children to not listen to your words. Using too many words causes kids to become parent deaf.
If you mean what you say and follow up with action immediately, you might have some tears the first few times but ultimately, you will have obedient children who will listen to you the first time you say something. Doesn’t that sound good?
4. Speak the Way You Want To Be Spoken To. Your children are watching you like a hawk. If you want to be spoken to respectfully, then talk to your children respectfully. If you want to have others deal with conflict in a calm and appropriate way, then deal with conflict in an appropriate and calm way yourself. Use a tone of voice that is sincere and conveys the message that what your children have to say to you is important and you want to hear them.
And just think about this for a minute. How effective is it when we go raging into the parenting arena yelling and screaming? It’s kind of like adding gasoline to a fire, isn’t it? Imagine how different your interactions would be if you spoke calmly. And then follow through with action.
5. Ask For the Behavior You Want. Have you ever asked your kids to stop jumping on the bed? What happened? Did it seem to you like all they heard was “Jump on the bed! Jump on the bed!”?
The brain of a child can not physiologically process a negative. When you say “don’t” to a child, all they hear is whatever you tell them not to do. It you really want your children to hear you and obey you then you must tell them what to do instead of what NOT to do. For example, “Keep your feet on the floor.” “Get off the bed!” “Keep your hands to yourself!” “Keep your food on your plate, on your fork or in your mouth.”
6. Get on Your Kids Eye Level. Try this. Lie down on your back on the ground and have an adult friend stand over you and start to yell at you. How small do you feel? How powerful do you feel?
This is how we make children feel when we tower over them and yell or discipline them. Our sheer size is a powerful force and creates distance between us and our children. Always get on your child’s eye level when you are communicating something important to them. Never yell at your kid from on high! If you don’t want to get down on their level, bring them up to yours. Sit them on a counter top or sit down at a table together.
Eye contact confers caring and respect. Remember, your children are watching you like a hawks!
7. Detach With Love. When I tell parents to detach, they often think I am telling them to not care. Detachment is parenting without getting caught up in the drama of the emotions of the situation and without getting overly involved in your child’s issues; especially if they are similar to your own issues.
Detachment means staying calm and being okay if your child is pitching a fit about leaving a friends house. And leaving anyway.
Detaching is leaving the house on time for school, even if your child is still in their pajamas. They’ll only do it once. Next time they will be ready on time.
Detachment is healthy and empowering. When you are detached you can help your child find creative solutions to problems and empower them to handle them themselves.
How much more effective are we as parents when we are assured and confident that our children will find powerful and creative ways to solve their own problems? When we stay out of the emotional drama, we set ourselves up as resources for our children and the channels of communication stay open and honest. Your children are no longer afraid of your reaction.
These are just a few quick tips to help you keep your sanity when you’re at the end of your parenting rope.
Parenting Quick Tip: Write down these 7 tips and post them where you can be reminded when you might need them the most!