What would it take for you to stay calm when it comes to managing your kids’ behavior? Sometimes it feels like a herculean task.
Remember the Oregon trail? One wagon after another followed the tracks made by earlier wagons. The ruts got deeper and deeper as more wagons rode west. In places, a person could stand in ruts up to their waist. It would have been impossible for a wagoneer to veer off in another direction.
When we react to our children the same way over and over, we dig ourselves into emotional and behavioral ruts. Ruts run especially deep when they stem from beliefs we hold about ourselves learned in childhood. If you believe you’re never good enough, a disappointment, or unlovable, etc. from remarks made by parents or teachers, those beliefs stick and can drive your behavior.
The early pioneers stayed in existing wagon ruts for safety. So do we. It’s often safer to believe what we do about ourselves than to venture out on a new trail to believe I am good enough. I can do whatever I put my mind to. Try changing deep down beliefs. It’s not easy. It’s much safer to stay in familiar patterns, even though they may be self-destructive. Bad feelings about yourself lead to negative, damaging reactions toward your kids — in turn, sending negative messages to them. And the cycle perpetuates. Venturing into new territory to see things from a different perspective feels too unfamiliar, unsafe.
How many times do you think, If only I were a better mother…. Even if you have a great moment with your child, you might discount it thinking, Why can’t I do that all the time? Do you tend to focus only on your failures and your child’s?
Which thoughts make you feel calm?
• I never know what to do – or – I really listened to my daughter this afternoon.
• I always end up screaming – or – I didn’t yell when I asked him to come to the table tonight.
• I never have enough patience – or – When I take better care of myself, I have more patience.
• I‘ll never be able to stop blaming – or – I can do this as soon as I decide to.
• I’m a lousy parent – or – I am a perfectly good parent and I know my kids love me.
The negative thoughts are assumptions — your perception only. They logically cause feelings of despair and hopelessness, which in turn lead to beating yourself up and yelling at or threatening your child — leaving you thinking you’re a lousy parent. Can you see how the reframed thoughts lead to more self-compassion? But we rarely go there. It’s much easier to think negatively. We don’t even see that we have a choice. Oh, that’s just me. That’s how I am. What are we trying to prove?
We’re control freaks. We want to be right even when being right is wrong. My child is so self-centered. He never thinks of anybody but himself. That is a judgment that could be seen from a different perspective. Kids are naturally self-centered. He wants what he wants but is also very loving and kind. Do you see how you might respond with more understanding when he is acting self-centered?
Our negative assumptions are automatic. They fly through our brains at lightning speed, and we jump to conclusions in a nano-second. Those automatics come from the old, outdated beliefs we hold about ourselves. Those ruts we are stuck in.
In order to step out, pay careful attention to the moments you do connect, say words you mean, and are able to stop yourself before reacting. It is the little moments that build up when, and only when, we shine a light on them. Focus more on what you want rather than what you don’t. Baby steps build the ladder to help you out of even the deepest ruts. Start by reminding yourself you can do this, even when you make lots of mistakes.
Change can’t happen until you first recognize what it is that comes so naturally. Here’s how:
1. Pay attention to your feeling first. Ask yourself, If I felt so angry, what must I have been thinking about myself or my child?
2. Pat yourself on the back when you recognize a thought that led to your feelings. Why can’t I ever get anything right? He never listens. This is a big step forward.
3. Take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings as well as the behavior they fuel. Don’t blame them on your child or anyone else, even yourself. They can change when you pay attention.
4. Go back to your thought and see if you can reframe it until you feel calmer or more understanding. I know I can do better when I am not so hard on myself. My child is having a problem, not being a problem. When she hits, she’s probably feeling misunderstood or ignored.