On a scale from 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with yourself as a parent? What is your reaction when your children have bad tantrums or other crises? We, parents, like any other human beings, may have accumulated negativity and this can be a hindrance to constructive communication with children. Luckily, we can learn to go beyond negativity and help our children grow happy and loving adults, who in their turn can help others.
“We would like to believe that only a disturbed parent responds in a way that is damaging to a child. Unfortunately, even parents who are loving and well meaning also blame, shame, accuse, ridicule, threaten, bribe, label, punish, preach and moralize.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child.
When my second child was born, the elder brother’s jealousy for mother’s attention was sparked. The new baby born is now an active 15-months-old toddler who cries when I hug his brother. The initially simple and crude jealousy manifests in more complex and violent ways. I find myself yelling more often and getting frustrated with the lack of improvement in the interaction between my boys.
“Parenthood is an endless series of small events, periodic conflict, and sudden crises that call for a response. The response is not without consequence: It affects personality and self-regard for better or worse.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child
Being a stay-at-home mother, I’ve experienced all too well how fast and how often I need to respond to conflicts between siblings. Inappropriate responses such as my emotionally stirred reaction to the boys’ argument set an undesirable example of how to solve dispute. Furthermore, shouting, threatening or punishing may lead to further frustration in children, and thus the conflicts can become more frequent.
We may want to help our kids understand that it’s perfectly fine to have negative feelings but it’s not fine to shout or hit others around just because we feel bad inside. In order for children to learn how to deal with their negative feelings, they need guidance from us.
The challenge for us parents is to overcome our own emotional unbalance so that we can communicate effectively with our children. The following 8 steps may help in getting in touch with the inner space inside us where there is peacefulness and from where we can connect and talk to our children:
Have no expectations that kids will behave as adults (maybe it’s for the best they don’t behave like us). Kids are playful, creative, imaginative and without boundaries. They like eating while standing instead of sitting. They like to jump in pools of water even if they don’t wear the proper shoes. They express awe in a loud voice.
As soon as we become aware of any expectation, it’s best to ignore it, take a deep breath and think to ourselves, “Kids are kids”. This does not mean that we should allow kids any kind of behaviour such as, writing on the walls, jump from the top of the cupboard, or play with knives.
By ignoring the expectations on kids’ behaviour, we avoid moments of unnecessary fury. Instead, we become more creative in explaining what is acceptable and what not.
For example, when my eldest son used to drop water on the floor, I was very much tempted to shout at him “Don’t do that!”. Instead, I said, “There is water on the floor. The water can damage the floor. Let’s wipe it off together.”Did he keep on spilling water on the floor? Yes, many times and I reacted in the same way to him.
Nowadays, he stopped doing that. I don’t know if he understood my explanation. However, in the long run, I hope he understands that there are consequences to our actions and if we make a mess, then we are responsible to clean it up.
Expect that anger is unavoidable. In such moments, we may shout something undesirable, such as “If you hit your sister one more time, I’ll pull your hair”. Such statements are threats, which if we don’t keep, then kids learn that we don’t really mean what we say. And if we do really mean what we say, threats become acts of physical violence which can traumatise the children and disturb the wellbeing of the whole family.
Bursting out in anger is unavoidable but anger should NOT be expressed in acts of physical violence. For other ways of expressing anger, such as blaming, labelling, ridiculing or accusing, we can apologise and openly talk about it with our children.
Each time when I become aware that I overreact, I apologise to the boys and explain what is happening. For example, “Mommy didn’t sleep well last night and is a bit tired today.” Apologising shows respect towards the child. At the same time, the child gets the message that shouting is not a constructive solution. Raising the voice does not give us what we want and furthermore, it can hurt the person we’re yelling at.
Become aware of our emotional state when interacting with our children. For example, we can be emotionally unbalanced because we just had an argument with our partner. When we turn our attention to our children, we may overreact to what they do or say. We may take the negativity out onto our kids. Awareness can help us disconnect from the negative emotions and tune into our children inner lives. They will feel the connection and they’ll feel safe to be next to mommy or daddy.
Increase awareness of the present moment. When we feel the anger is taking control, it’s time to start taking deep breaths. If the tension is still at its peak, verbalize what we feel about the particular crisis. For example, “I am so angry because you pushed your brother”. When the fury is fading away, I usually turn towards the toddler and ask him to forgive his brother.
A crisis is a good opportunity to teach important values to children. For example, I want to make sure that my boys will eventually understand that violence against another human being is not accepted. Since neither boy can talk articulately, I can’t expect them to explain in words what feeling drives them to resort to violence. The best guess is that it is the jealousy. But what if it isn’t that? What if there is something else that one of siblings did and the response comes under the form of hitting?
Instead of guessing and going on and lecturing based on what my guess is, I chose to state only that it is not allowed to hit each other.In addition to non-violent behaviour, there may be other values that we may want to share with our children and our behaviour and communication should reflect those values (i.e.,love, forgiveness, etc).
Let empathy towards our children shine through the anger. If we want to understand something about our children, we’d better focus on questioning why they behave the way they do and not on what they do. When there is physical violence between siblings, being empathic can help us see the conflict from both kids’ perspective: from the perspective of the child who hits and from the perspective of the child who is hit. What is the reason for which a child hits his sibling? How does he feel hitting his sibling? How does a child feel when is hit by his sibling?
For now when my kids are at the toddler and pre-school age, the strategy for handling bad tantrums consists of three steps: 1. I explain why I can’t grant a particular wish, i.e., eat chocolate for breakfast. 2. When the heartbreaking cry starts, breathing helps to calm myself down. Words are unnecessary. The kid can’t listen because he wants one thing only – to have his wish granted. 3. Maintain eye contact once in a while and look compassionately at the child. When the storm is over, he asks for milk, which is always granted to him as a sign that we made peace.
With every new situation, we take stand based on what feels natural to us. But it also has to be an attitude from which our children can feel that they are understood. Think about how you feel when you tell to your partner that you’d like to buy a dress but it’s slightly expensive. How would you like your partner to react? Would you like him to say, “Honey, I think we have enough expenses already, forget about the dress.”, or, “I would also want to buy loud speakers, so let’s both buy whatever we want”, or “I wish I could buy that dress for you. I am sure you would look gorgeous! Maybe next month, you can buy it.”.
When feeling understood, children, like adults, feel loved. They become thus empowered to find acceptable solutions to manage their lives. They learn to be responsible for the choices they make.
Spend short moments of daily relaxation. It is crucial to relax daily during short breaks and gain the much needed emotional balance and patience. It can be more efficient to relax 10 minutes every 2 hours than wait for that one evening in the week when we can go to a Pilates class or for a coffee with a friend.
I don’t know what can help you relax, but as far as I am concerned, meditation is a good way of creating inner space. The method of relaxation is less important, the effect matters – that of creating inner peacefulness. We can thus become more patient when bad tantrums come out of a blue.
For a few weeks already, I started doing a daily 10 minutes meditation focused on nature’s beauty. It is a project I plan to carry on for half of a year. I will share the details in the following blog post for anyone who may be interested in this type of meditation.
Dedicate time and effort for the development of parental abilities so that we can keep up with the developmental stages of our children. For example, I find parental self-help books on how to communicate with kids to be sources of inspiration that provide new perspectives to parenting. Talking with other parents about how to become better parents, writing a diary of the most tensed moments with our kids, etc, may helps us expand our consciousness as parents and build bridges to our children hearts.
When the next moment of crises comes, let’s all do a small exercise. First, think how the situation may look through the eyes of our children. Second, how would we want to be treated if we were the child in that situation.
I wish to you a meaningful journey of parenthood!