It’s often said that we’re living with our best teacher, and nowhere is that more true than as a parent to our children. Who else has the ability to crack our heart wide open with a sloppy kiss on the cheek– and who else can raise our blood pressure from zero to sixty with a disrespectful remark or a “Whatever.” Therapist Susan Stiffelman explains what is behind your child’s behavior and how to keep your cool in the midst of it all.
How to stay calm when kids misbehave
Every parent wants to keep their cool. When we deposit our kids at school after stressfully trying to get them out the door on time, most of us feel pangs of regret and a longing to enjoy our mornings with them rather than have the start of each day be so filled with drama and shouting. But taking a deep breath or counting to ten can seem almost ridiculous in the face of kids who seem to know exactly how to push our biggest buttons.
No one has the power to inspire us to discover our grown up selves the way our children do, and along the way, they give us plenty of opportunities to come face to face with our reactivity in ways that astonish even the mellowest Moms and Dads.
Managing your own thoughts
The key to managing your reactivity and keeping your cool is to notice the thought that lands between your ears (in your mind) just before you lose it. Often, the triggering thought will have the word “should” or “shouldn’t” in it.
“Sherry shouldn’t spend so much time picking out her outfit every morning.”
“Dylan should come to the table for dinner when I call him.”
“The boys shouldn’t punch each other in the back seat of the car.”
By looking at these kinds of thoughts and examining them honestly, you may find that the opposite is equally true, if not truer. For example, if Sherry (in the example above) is a thirteen-year old girl who has a crush on not one but two boys in her class, it actually makes sense that she would spend a lot of time picking out her outfit in the morning. And if Dylan is immersed in building one of his epic Lego structures, it would almost absurd to expect him to stop working on it just because dinner’s on the table.
Understanding the meaning behind children’s actions
Most of us lose our cool because of what we make our children’s behavior mean. We tell ourselves our kids are intentionally disrespecting us, or trying to hurt our feelings, when in fact, that could be completely untrue.
By coming alongside kids and meeting them where they are, without superimposing judgments that often aren’t even correct, you’ll find yourself better able to loosen the grip these thoughts have on your blood pressure. If you accept that your daughter is anxious about how she looks, you’ll be less angry when she changes her outfit three times. If you know that your boys are tired and hungry, you’ll take it less personally when they fight in the back seat after a long day of school.
You’ve lost it – Now what?
And if things do deteriorate and you find yourself screaming, threatening or bribing, the most important step to regaining your cool is to recognize you’ve lost it. STOP before you do or say something you’ll regret. Most of us parent in a rush. When we hurry, we speak or act impulsively, disregarding our inner wisdom that requires us to be still in order to hear it.
By focusing on your own reactions and the often inaccurate meaning you’re ascribing to your children’s behavior, you’ll be modeling for them the reality that we can keep our cool even when the people around us aren’t behaving as we wish they would. By showing them that they don’t have to get frustrated whenever things don’t go their way, you’ll be giving them the gift of a lifetime: the possibility of enjoying the people they love, through the inevitable ups and downs as all of you navigate the challenges of real life.