Today we’re featuring a terrific guest post from family therapist Corey Allan, Ph.D. who blogs over at The Simple Marriage Project. Corey and his wife, who celebrated their 15th anniversary this month, have a 3-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son. (And a cool dog named Otis — see below.) Thanks for sharing this with us, Corey!
Spend any time with a parent, and you are bound to hear tales of his or her children’s escapades. Stories about when they said the most inappropriate thing at the most inopportune time, when they continue to test the boundaries and rules, or when they’ve thrown a tantrum at Target. It’s enough to drive almost anyone crazy. Take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
Parents worldwide have gone through or are currently in the midst of the storm as well. Take advantage of the times when you can swap stories with other parents in the trenches. It can be hilarious, enlightening — and you may walk away from the conversation thankful for your children’s “tame” behavior.
Have you ever stopped to contemplate your role in your child’s behaviors? Could it be that they feed off you? I believe the answer is yes.
Applying this thought to parenting is the way to begin to gain control over your child’s behaviors. And the most effective way to do this is to get a better handle on your own emotional reactivity.
Let me explain. You come in after a long day and your child is in a bad mood due to a run-in he had with his teacher at school. You are already predisposed to reacting badly to any negative behaviors due to your tough day, and your child decides this is the best time to inform you that he did not do any of the chores you assigned him for the week. He even goes so far as to add a few colorful descriptions to his replies.
Do you take the bait and jump all over his disrespectful attitude? If you do, you’ve allowed him to change the topic of conversation, which was his incomplete chores. It’s easy to react when our buttons get pushed, but it is also the way they kids the subject. And they only get more expert at this skill as they grow older.
When it comes to arguments with another person, especially children and teenagers, the rule is this: Whoever controls the mood and the direction of the argument will win the argument.
My belief is that if, as a parent, you get into an argument with your child, they’ve already won. While they may not have changed the responsibility or the consequence, the fact that you had to argue about it keeps the “power” in their court. They controlled you by pushing your emotional buttons. When our emotions get the best of us in conversations, most people either over-react or shut down completely — leaving a possible wake of damage behind.
To take charge of your child’s behaviors, learn to react less emotionally to their instigations. It will change the dynamic between you and leave them wondering what to do next. After you have learned to react less, you are then more capable of creating an appropriate consequence for the behavior.
As a parent, you’re not raising puppies. You don’t have to catch your child in the act. Take some time to contemplate an appropriate consequence. Confer with your spouse. Search the Internet. Then get back with your child and calmly inform them of the consequences of their actions.
Do this consistently and over time, you will be in charge of the playing field in which your children reside. There will also be far less damage repair needed after the emotional upheavals.
Incidentally, the principles of being less emotionally reactive work with spouses as well.