Lessons for Everyday Parenting

The Connective Parenting Newsletter, May 2014

Lesson: What do you really want for Mother's Day?
Lesson: What do you really want for Mother’s Day?

Enough with the hearts and flowers. What do mother’s really want? My guess is to feel good about their parenting.

As most of us mothers will attest, mothering is not easy, and there are days when we’d like to throw in the towel. Support is in short supply. Time for yourself is shorter still.

What do you do for yourself when thoughts of I’m doing this all wrong and I don’t know what else to do provoke feelings of hopelessness, which then uncontrollably express in regretful reactions toward your children? If you’ve read When Your Kids Push Your Buttons, you know it’s those pesky thoughts (assumptions) in your head that are the culprit. I’m not good enough, My son is disrespectful and rude, My daughter never listens, etc.

We don’t even realize we think what we do. To calm your reactions, the key is in what you are thinking. The best place to start is at the end. After an incident with your child, get to a paper and pencil and write down:

  1. how you reacted
  2. how you felt that caused your reaction
  3. then ask yourself, What must I have been thinking that made me feel that way?

A story from a reader sums up the process:

I have an 8 year old boy who has always pushed my buttons! He likes his own way, is very determined and strong willed. I often feel resentful and stretched with him as I tend to give in or compromise just to “shut him up” basically! Since reading the Buttons book I have clued in a lot more to what’s going on.

Last night we read together in bed, cuddled, then I said goodnight and headed off to spend time with my husband (finally!).

Then came, “mum, mum, I need you to come and cuddle me. I didn’t get enough of a cuddle and I can’t get to sleep very well without a big cuddle.” We had recently decided a big cuddle was what he needed for soothing and better sleep. However we had already read together, I had scratched his back, and it was now time for me.

Instantly his determined demand pushed my button. I started with the old assumption, “He’s hassling me! Everyone’s at me the whole time!! Leave me alone!! Stop hassling me!!!” Being a victim.

Then I did the first step – Breathe. And think of the positives (i.e. nobody died!). Then I looked at my assumption—he was out to get me and wanted to make my life a misery—and decided to change it. My new assumption was in fact that he was right, we had discussed the cuddles in bed and how they would help soothe him, so he had a point. By being in this place of more detachment/neutrality, I could also see that my need of having time with my husband was just as important (this is big for me as I’ve always seen my needs as less important than everyone else’s).

So I was able to discuss with him from a point of neutrality and a clear head. I understood that he was right about the cuddles and I needed time with Dad and sometimes he would have to find a way to soothe himself without a big cuddle. Then we discussed a method his teacher suggested for soothing himself at night.

I could not believe it. I didn’t hear another word from him! You don’t know how good that felt. I didn’t give him what he was asking for, but I actually gave him what he was needing – for me to step into my power.

It is our judgments and perceptions—our assumptions—that lead us down that ugly path to screaming and yelling and not being listened to. Look at the assumptions you are making, realize they are a subjective spin you put on the situation, and are not facts—they are your perceptions only.

Negative assumptions necessarily lead to negative, angry, resentful feelings and reactions. Reframing those assumptions can lead you to compassion for yourself and your child, which is the place where change begins.

Wouldn’t compassion feel better? Try identifying and then reframing those negative thoughts, honor your own needs as well as your child’s, and find the balance. Step into your power and your child can step into his.

Speaking of doing something for yourself, I have partnered with Renee Trudeau who is offering an amazing Mother’s Day gift. Enjoy an entire year of nurturing self-care and support, including a week-long retreat at Omega Institute (NY), a $2700 value: www.reneetrudeau.com. To enter, simply go to my blog to read a mother’s job description and leave your comment answering, “What does self-care mean to you?” On Mother’s Day, I will pick the winner using a random number generator.

Questions and Answers

I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to bh@bonnieharris.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.

I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to bh@bonnieharris.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.

Anger Outlets

Q. Our just-5 son is quite volatile and quick to erupt over minor issues, shouting and crying (at home, not in public). In the past I think he has used us as an outlet for his emotions. When he’s upset, cross, tired, scared he provokes us (hitting his brother/destroying, throwing things), so that we have shouted at him. Then he shouts back furiously and has an outlet for a big cry and scream. Afterwards he’s calmer. Since realising the dynamic we have tried to stay disengaged, which has helped. We still get explosive outbursts every day or two—usually when trying to get him dressed or teeth brushed, etc. even when offering lots of help. We have strong bedtime/morning routines, but it’s not enough. How do we help our son to express his emotions without the bad behaviour and anger first and without using us /others as an conduit? I think we should have a punch bag – my husband thinks this would encourage the anger and hitting things. I think it might let out the emotion in a neutral way.

A. Five can be a tough age as there is a lot of push-pull going on. He knows how capable he is now and what he can make happen, and he also senses a loss of babyhood, yet not wanting to be a baby—if that makes sense. This could be one reason for his emotional volatility and will diminish as he matures. It’s good news that he is able to cope outside the home. But that might be the reason for his need to release at home. And of course you are his outlet—who safer? Do get him a punching bag and use a punching pillow. Parents fear it will encourage hitting but you are rechanneling the anger and frustration that should be allowed into a physical outlet that is acceptable—and you are controlling the outlet. Boys especially need physical outlets. Let him take a stick and hit a tree, bang on a drum or piano, run as fast as he can around the house while you count, draw his feelings and tell him to rip up the paper in as many pieces as he can. The more he can be physical, the less he will be frustrated. But getting him while his frustration is high to rechannel can be hard. The key is for you to accept his emotions. When you feel calm and confident you can say, “You are so angry because I wouldn’t let you have … Show me how angry you are (holding up the punching pillow).” Let him draw your face or stomach on the pillow and hit it with all he’s got. You may need to do it yourself to encourage it because he WANTS to hit you. After he has gotten it all out, sit with him and assure him that his anger is normal and he can always hit the punching pillow but he can’t hit you or his brother. Think about what it must feel like to be him. Imagine having such intense feelings come up that scare you. Then imagine what you would most need at those times. That will tell you what to do and how to handle it. Remember he’s having a problem, not being a problem.

Conflict Resolution instead of Punishment

Q. I have my 4 yo daughter in our park and rec camp. Today, according to the director, she pushed a child. She had been in time out for 25 minutes when I arrived. The director took me aside and told me what happened. I had to make her apologize to the child before she would be allowed back at camp tomorrow. It was at least a 20 min. ordeal to get her to apologize—it was horribly embarrassing for me and her. Later in the day she told me the child stepped on her foot first and then she hit him. How could this have been handled better by the camp director and myself… I do not look forward to the way the school system will be treating my hard-headed, willful child… I love who she is and know it will serve her well in her older years!

A. First, take your daughter out of that camp. Let your daughter know that you think they were wrong in treating her the way they did and you understand how humiliated she must have felt – and that you did too. This is an old-school approach. Conflict resolution is what should replace punishment. The counselor could have gotten the two children together and asked them to each tell their side of the story, each having an uninterrupted turn. This does not have to be rational but an expression of feelings. Once out, they can be asked, “What can you do or decide to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” The conversation is facilitated by the adult but the children need to be engaged in the process and the outcome. If no one wants to apologize, that is up to them. If one wants an apology from the other, then the adult can acknowledge that and ask the other child what she needs in order to offer an apology. We are too attached to our own ideas of right and wrong to let children decide what is right and wrong for themselves. Our society will be much better equipped once we learn that children are capable of handling conflicts when we do no more than supervise and facilitate. You should never have been brought in to the problem. It was a camp issue. Discipline should never cross school/home boundaries. Forcing children to apologize leads to an empty and meaningless “sorrryyyy” given only to avoid getting in trouble. (learn more about problem solving and conflict resolution in Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids)

Defusing Reactions

Q. Both my husband and I have “hot” temperaments prone to quick, passionate reactions. There are positives and negatives—an exuberance for life and short volatile fuses. We are really enjoying our kids right now, a daughter (7) and son (9). I see in both of them the reactive, quick tempers, as well as the passionate “throw yourself into life” tendency. I would love some thoughts on how to work on impulse control, especially in anticipation of the teen years when those impulses can lead them into risky waters. And we could all use some tips on how to sidestep knee-jerk reactions and treat each other with a little more empathy when misunderstandings arise.

A. It’s great that you all share temperaments, so all understand each other’s quick tempers and passionate impulses. The best way to teach your kids impulse control is by modeling it. And don’t expect them to have the same control as an adult. Most children this age range from mildly to extremely impulsive. You might all benefit from learning to take a deep breath before reacting. Practice modeling deep breathing when something minor arises. This could be sort of fun and silly. Call it something fun and silly too. But don’t expect the kids to remember to breath before reacting. Wait until it is over and all are calm. Then ask what might have helped in that situation to be a bit less reactive. When you use problem solving—leading a child’s thought process to think through a situation rather than telling them what to do—you are allowing the brain circuits for thinking to take over from reacting emotionally. Problem solving is the greatest skill you can learn and teach your children. It creates win/win situations which empowers everyone—”You want X and I want Y. How can we make it work so we both get what we want?” No one loses, no one gets in trouble. That said, be assured that the teen brain loves risk and is in fact evolved to take chances. But you can help them at least know what the risks are before jumping off the cliff.


We met with you when we were having difficult times, and needed support about how to go about responding to our son’s challenging behavior. I just wanted to let you know that “no consequences” does work—I still don’t practice it perfectly, but when I am in the right mind and heart space, it is much easier to respond without the blame/consequence tactic. My son has always been very good at letting me know what’s going on with me, but I always seem to forget! I found myself telling my son I’d take away his tablet unless… and all the while, rather than seeing me observe my poor behavior, I saw you, so I caught my breath, and re-spoke. Certainly threats and consequences are the “I’m too tired to deal, lazy way out.”

Note: “no consequences” in this context means no arbitrary “consequences” that are really punishments — imposed by the parent with no input from the child. Logical consequences can be helpful when decided on with the child.


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