In this season where we focus so much on finding the perfect presents to light up our child’s eyes and bring magic to their lives, it’s worth remembering that the real magic is something closer to home. Miraculously, we as parents always seem to be gifted with the perfect child for us, meaning that somehow our children always seem to awaken whatever we need to heal. If we can accept that gift with an open heart and work on ourselves, we transform. If we resist and blame our child for “misbehaving,” it’s almost like blaming the mirror for our reflection. And we burden our child with our own unfinished business. How can we heal our own baggage, to become the parents we want our children to have?
Whenever we get “triggered” we’ve stumbled on something that needs healing. I know that can be hard to accept, but if your buttons are getting pushed, they’re YOUR buttons. Not that kids don’t act like kids — they always do! Often their behavior is off-track and needs to be redirected.
But if you didn’t have a hot button there, you wouldn’t take it personally — so you would be able to respond more calmly and effectively to your child’s behavior.
Break the cycle by using your inner Pause button
When your emotions are “triggered,” your child looks like the enemy. You can’t be the parent your child deserves at those times. So when you notice your anger escalating, even if you’re already well down the wrong path, STOP.
Take a deep breath and hit the pause button. Don’t be embarrassed; you’re modeling good anger management. Reserve your embarrassment for when you have a tantrum.
Acknowledge the emotions without taking action
This is otherwise known as mindfulness. Notice the sensations in your body, but don’t take action. Just feel it; that’s what heals it.
This doesn’t mean thinking about what happened and getting all tangled up in the storyline, which will just mire you in the muck. We feel emotions in the body. So noticing the feeling simply means noticing the sensations in your body. When you welcome what you’re feeling but resist the urge to act on it, while holding yourself with compassion, the emotions begin to dissipate. That actually dissolves the old emotional trigger. Every time you do this, you’re rewiring your brain.
Get support in working through your baggage
Parenting support groups, coaching, and parenting courses can be invaluable in supporting you to re-frame your parenting. There is no shame in asking for help. The shame would be in reneging on your responsibility as a parent by visiting your own issues on your child.
If you think you need help, please don’t wait. Give yourself the support you need.
We all have a harder time self-regulating when we’re stressed out, so it’s our job to contain the stress. Just say No to electronics when you’re with your kids, given that you’re much more likely to yell at your child if you’re trying to focus on a screen. Develop a repertoire of habits that help you de-stress: regular exercise, yoga, hot baths, meditation.
Can’t find the time? Involve the whole family. Put on music and dance together, go for a walk in the woods, listen to a guided meditation together, put everyone to bed with books early on Friday night for a quiet evening, and catching up on your sleep. Maintaining your own well-being is one of your most important responsibilities as a parent because otherwise, you can’t be the parent you want your child to have.
Generally, our expectations serve us well. They help us imagine the future and navigate a complex world that might otherwise overwhelm us. But sometimes our expectations can lead us astray.
When this happens repeatedly, parents are likely suffering from low reflective functioning (RF). RF is a parent’s capacity to be curious about their child’s experience. It is one of the most robust predictors of attachment security, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, the capacity to empathize, social cognition, and self-regulation (Fonagy, 2005).
Create a Culture of Honor
Creating a culture of honor means that as the parent, you set the atmosphere of your home. If you want your home to be peaceful, set the atmosphere by not allowing bickering and unnecessary arguing. Exemplify and require manners in your home.
You may even want to have soft, peaceful music playing often. Consider other means of communicating the message to your children that your home is a place of peace and honor. Teach your children there’s more value in serving each other rather than being served. That means giving them chores and reminding them why we serve others when they complain.
Make Time For What’s Important
There is a famous quote that says, “Love is spelled T-I-M-E.” Giving your children the gift of your time is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. I know our schedules are busy, and sometimes it’s easier to let the TV watch our kids. But we have to resist the urge to disconnect from our families.
I am guilty of not always making space to spend quality time with my kids, and this is coming from someone whose primary love language is quality time!
Pump Up The Praise
The best way to get repeat behavior is to praise it. But did you know the same works true in the negative? We have a saying around our house, “If you see something good, say something good.” If you see your child honoring his/her sibling, praise him/her! Let the child know they’ve been “caught” doing good. You get more of what you focus on.
This is why so many parents stay frustrated when their child exemplifies poor behavior. Most likely, the parent is focusing too much on the negative behavior and is making vain threats or using excessive punishment. None of us like to be constantly reminded of our failures, so be sure to pump up the praise when your children do positive things.
The gift of self-confidence
If a child learns early in life that he is capable, he’s less likely to struggle with insecurity and self-doubt as he gets older, explains Kathryn Gleason, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “If a child doesn’t have a clear sense of self, he or she is going to struggle with identity issues later in life, especially in the teen years.” Her advice: Praise your child’s efforts to build confidence instead of his results. For example, if he’s drawing a picture, compliment him on how he’s putting his picture together, the colors he uses and the textures he creates.