Our kids have a way of pushing our buttons like no one else can. So how can we keep our cool with those little people we love the most, our children?
One of our biggest jobs as parents is to be an emotion coach, the personal trainer of our kids’ feelings. In order to teach our children how to do that, we must first learn to do it for ourselves. You have to BE the lesson before you teach the lesson.
This one is tough and requires a lot of self-reflection on the parent’s part. We need to look closely at what we are modeling for our children. We don’t want to scream at our kids to stop screaming or yell at them to calm down. But this is really challenging when you are spent and stressed yourself. When we are stressed we regress to the way we were parented, and most of us do not have a template to do it differently. Mother Teresa did not raise most of us, so our own emotional thermostat can flash red too often or too quickly. So we have to take a moment to discipline ourselves before we discipline our child.
Parents often ask me if I believe in time-outs. I do, but for the parents, not the kids! Walk away before you say something you will regret in the heat of the moment. A mother found out that her child had lied and without missing a beat she screamed, “After all I do for you, this is how you treat me? You are so sneaky!” If she had given herself a time-out for an hour or a day, I bet she could have delivered the message in a calmer way, without name-calling. If she had given herself some time to reflect, she might have traded the name-calling for a discussion about the value of honesty. Teaching our kids how to manage their feelings requires that we first learn to manage our own. Parenting is a magnificent opportunity to raise ourselves, so that we can better raise our child.
Our kids easily push our buttons when we over-function for them. When we feel it is our job to make our kids happy 24/7 or solve their conflicts, it is both draining for us and not in service to them. We get exhausted when we are doing too much work for our children.
When siblings are fighting, do we immediately jump in and play the harried referee, or do we give them space to work it out? If they are bored do we jump in with a thousand ideas, or do we say, “Hmm, I am sure you will figure it out.”
It seems counterintuitive, but we should want our kids to be frustrated. Practicing how to work though conflicts creates a more flexible and resilient brain. So if you are feeling spent, ask yourself if you are doing too much for your kids.
Another way to stay cool when our kids push our buttons is to ask yourself the question, “what does it mean to me”? Often our inability to tolerate our kids’ big emotions has a lot to do with our own childhood. When your child is upset and you start feeling anxious or sad, ask yourself; “What does it mean to me”? What are your child’s tears or disappointments bringing up for you? If he is whining and complaining that he is so bored, are you worried you are raising an entitled child? Where do you go in your head in terms of self-judgment? Try and unhook that for yourself. If your child is bored and you get anxious and want to take the boredom away, what does it remind you of in your own past? Were you a latch-key kid left home alone, or do you feel guilty that you work, and feel you need to constantly entertain your child when you are home? If you find yourself crying when your daughter gets cut from a team, is it because you got cut from a team? If it really bugs you when your child is asking for things, is it because you were not allowed to have too many needs or a voice as a child?
Hysterical is historical; if we are overly charged up about a situation with our kids, take a glance back and see if it has to do with your own history. Use your charged feelings as an opportunity for your own growth. If you can figure out why you have so much heat around a particular issue that your child is having, it just might free both of you.
We are human, and parenting has a high degree of human error. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So when you mess up and lose your cool - own it. Tell your children that your volume was too high, and that you will work on a calmer delivery in the future. By apologizing you are modeling for your children taking responsibility when you make a mistake. What a great thing to teach your kids.
Staying cool also requires that you take time for yourself. Self-care is not selfish, it is essential. Go for a walk, meditate, exercise, meet a friend, read a book, or do something just for yourself. Then you will be able to return to your parenting from a more balanced place.
Parenting is an epic love affair, but it requires enormous mindful discipline, to go high when your kids go low. But it is so worth it in the end; if you can manage your feelings, you teach you kids how to do the same. And if you were not raised in a home where your parents managed their feelings, let the love for your children inspire you to learn this new skill. You can then be a cycle breaker!