The Pause that Refreshes

Your child reacts uncontrollably to something you have said. You either least expect it, highly disapprove of it, are hurt by it, or it reinforces what a terrible job you think you are doing in raising this brat. What’s your immediate reaction?

Let me guess. You react uncontrollably back. You yell, you blame, and you say and do things you swore you never would and regret it. Why do we do this when we know it doesn’t work? First because we’re human and human nature retaliates when confronted, afraid, and angry. The trick is not to feel confronted, afraid or angry—then you can respond in control of yourself.

This is where the Pause comes in. Stop yourself from doing anything. Breathe. Walk away, go for a walk, take a bath, sleep on it—take a break. This is the hardest step. “She can’t talk to me that way and get away with it! I’d be letting her know she won. She’s got to be taught a lesson or she’ll never learn!”

So let me try to convince you that none of that is true. You will only “let her get away with it” if you would rather sweep the incident under the carpet and not revisit the unpleasant event. She will only “win” if you declare yourself a loser. She will learn a lesson far more effectively when both of you are calm and she doesn’t feel blamed. Think about it. Children learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process and feel good. When they are struggling to uphold their side of things behind a wall of defense, the only thing they can focus on is protecting themselves from what they expect—attacks from an angry parent.

  • In order to stop yourself, it is useful to not take your child’s anger personally.
  • If you are afraid she will treat others this way, ask someone else who knows her. Does she speak disrespectfully to teachers, neighbors? Chances are, no. She saves her frustrations for you. Amazingly, that is good news.
  • Your anger will only fuel hers further. If you want her to gear down, you need to be in the gear you want her to meet.
  • Don’t expect her to step off the power struggle wheel first, “Oh sorry, Mom. I get it now. You’re right. I should listen to you from now on.”

If you can pause and breathe, you will give yourself that 5 minutes or several hours you need to think, calm down and respond effectively. Then DO find a way to go back over it. Maybe it’s at bedtime, in the car, while you’re doing dishes. Then instead of blaming and reacting you will have given yourself time to take responsibility for yourself—which tends to be catching.

“When I asked you to take your laundry upstairs, you reacted pretty angrily to me. I didn’t like the way you treated me. I get it that you didn’t want to do it and that I was interrupting your show. How could we have handled the whole situation differently? What could you have said to me that I could hear and understand? What do you need from me when I want you to do something?” You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from your child.

I can guarantee, you will get a very different response, and she will learn the lesson you want her to learn. If you get into this habit, she may likely be the first one to come to you after the Pause and apologize.



2 thoughts on “The Pause that Refreshes

  1. Bonnie, we had an episode with our son who’s 5 1/2 yrs. old. For the past 2 years or more, we have tried every approach. After reading your books, we know not to take things personally, although I have to say that I as a mother have a couple of times. Our son is smart but immature (more so than some other children in his class). We feel he lacks confidence and tends to hold things in rather than talk. Yes, I tried to get to the root cause but he still won’t budge (one might say stubborn). Tonight he was off the wall jumping on chairs, interupting when I had someone over and had to help them work. No matter how many times my husband or I ask him to stop jumping on chairs, he would say “no never”. Our son is also an immitator who has learned some words from a friend. This friend has gotten into trouble at school and the parents don’t set boundaries. The parents are very nice but they don’t set boundaries for example, they let their son run away from them where he can run into the road. We are trying to teach our son not to run away. Our son is a follower and thinks it’s funny. Anyways, our son has a temper. He’ll hit, throw, slam doors, spit and call us stupid or say “never” when we’re explaining how we want him to stop hitting and start listening. With all of this in mind, his tantrums have become less frequent and recovering has become quicker except tonight. Usually he’ll go through the tantrum and then start crying. I tried to teach him to breathe and we have been talking firmly with him rather than yelling. Another thing we found with him is that he has difficulty focusing. We and his teacher feel that it’s more likely due to confidence when engaged in a work center such as writing. He’s very smart and at times when we think he’s not listening, he’ll repeat everything. I’m trying to give you more information on his personality because we feel that he is a very good child but concerned about his outburst. I spend a lot of time in his classroom and I observe him with other children during an after school program. A lot of older children like him and think he’s cute. He doesn’t get into trouble with others. I do notice that if he’s not comfortable with someone, he just walk away and not say anything. He’s very inquisitive and he’ll walk up to a child that he doesn’t know and introduce himself. He’s not introverted but there is some shyness. Very hard to figure it out!! I hope I gave some light on his personality. If we try to challenge him and he’s in the mood, he’ll do it. But most of the time, he’ll say, no let’s do something totally different or I can’t or don’t know how. If I say I’ll show you, then he’ll whine and say he’s a baby. He always has a comeback. What do you think?

    Thank you,


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