Sometimes in life, and in parenting, it’s helpful to creatively problem-solve – to think outside the box. As much as we’d rather channel our internal Mr. Spock, we are actually quite illogical beings. We may believe we are thinking rationally, but really – try as we might – how often are we able to actually respond to our children instead of reacting? If you are anything like me: not as often as you’d like. First, I’ll explain a little about why this whole remaining calm thing is so difficult, and then I’ll offer a few counter-intuitive approaches for you to try.
I want to be a peaceful parent. I aim for calm, rational responses to my child’s challenging behaviors. But often my knee-jerk reactions take over. The culprit is the limbic brain. The limbic brain is home to our emotions and moods. It is also where memories are created, olfactory sense resides, and laughter is generated. While this is all well and good, our limbic system also controls us when we feel threatened and head into flight or fight, effectively cutting us off from our higher-level-thinking cortex.
A child’s rational mind is still under construction, and their emotions are pretty much running the show. We are the ones with the (hopefully) fully functioning adult brains. However, we do get triggered by the emotional pull of the young. The best case scenario is when they are a limbic mess and we can keep it together to model self-soothing, impulse-control, and emotion moderation. In this case we are teaching through example and offering a template of what it looks like to integrate multiple parts of the brain. When things don’t go well, we are yanked down to their emotionally immature level – into the limbic soup so to speak—and well, it can get ugly. So, a few ideas for you to try:
Let your child “win.”
Resist the urge to always be right, know everything, and tell your child what to do. Sometimes relaxing your inner know-it-all (almost impossible for me, I will admit) can allow a child to make their own way and come to their own conclusions. Teachers sometimes call this the constructivist approach. If we let children invent and test their own theories, they learn to be creative, problem-solve, and literallyconstruct their own learning. Also, use humor and role-reversal to engage in their name-calling or power-mongering. When my son pulls out the Mean Mommy label, I say, “Oh no, here comes the Mean Mommy. She is after you! See if you can knock her down with your strong muscles.” (Prepare for impact. Fall over. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.)
In the same vein as letting a child learn on their own, giving them a little leeway around self-care and social situations can be fruitful. Maybe they were about to say thank you when you jumped in and asked them to. I have (almost) never prompted children for manners and they consistently learn to say please, thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry by simply seeing it modeled on a regular basis. Likewise, imagine that someone is constantly asking you: “Are you hungry? Do you need a snack? Do you have to use the bathroom? Would you like a drink of water? Are you sure you don’t have to pee? Are you REALLY sure?” Welcome to the world of the average preschooler. You’d be cranky too, right?
But consistency is everything! Well, yes and no. I understand the wisdom of a predictable bedtime routine and a boundary that never wavers. But I also see the payoff for adding some prudent flexibility to your menu of parenting responses: “Sure, you can stay up late tonight,” or, “Yes – you may have a second serving of pie.” If you are always firm in meaning what you say in the moment, then you have some wiggle room to change your mind every once in a while. When they ask, “Dad, can we go to a movie on a school night again this week?” You can say, “No dear, that was a special occasion.”
Even if some of this advice sounds crazy, what do you have to lose by giving it a try? It can’t hurt to be a little more flexible in your responses. Maybe you’ll even end up laughing at yourself – and NOTHING is more welcome than a sense of humor when it comes to parenting – NOTHING.
The Art of Rough-Housing, by Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD and Anthony T. DeBenedet
The Way of The Peaceful Parent
Jennifer Lehr’s blog: ‘Good Job’ and Other Things You Shouldn’t Say or Do (Unless You Want to Ruin Your Kid’s Life)