Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. Our oldest son Daniel, sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully right. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
There’s a parenting pitfall that nearly all parents get stuck in at some point: “If my child behaves well, I am a good parent. If my child misbehaves, I am a bad parent.” Stated so bluntly, it’s obviously not true, but it is still a powerful and subtle belief for nearly all parents.
This belief can cause parents to change their perspective (and therefore their mood) quickly based on their children’s behavior. That inevitable wild outburst in a store becomes a great embarrassment because it’s about the parent’s failure. This drives the parent to overreact in order to get the child under control. The overreaction then leads the parent to make further conclusions about being a bad parent. Defining parenting by a child’s behavior puts tremendous pressure on the child to “get it right.” This usually has very negative results for the child and for the parent as they both ride an emotional roller coaster together, overreacting to the normal ups and downs of children’s behavior.
I had a good opportunity to test this in myself the day our youngest son Noah got caught lighting matches in the church.
Recently we found a post called “Conservation of Energy in Conversation” on the blog of popular marketing guru Seth Godin. While the post was geared toward the business world, we thought it had a lot of wisdom in the parenting world, too. Here’s the post, adapted (italics added) for parents:
If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss, snap at your kids), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.
If you escalate (high-pitched enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words, an empathetic word to a misbehaving child), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.
Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the child you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.
At Connected Families, we get really excited about sharing our stories and the stories of the parents we meet.
Whenever we publish a tip, we think, “Now THIS one they’re going to love!” But sometimes the tips that go viral are not the ones we expect, and sometimes some of our personal favorites remain low on the traffic list. Today, we’d like to shine a spotlight on a few of our favorites that haven’t gone viral. But we love them anyway.
Fear is everywhere. I have it. My kids have it. We’re all afraid of something.
When the fear is persistent it becomes anxiety. Whether or not the anxiety is rational, when my kids are anxious and hurting, I tend to be anxious and hurting too. Of all the emotions that can paralyze, anxiety tops the list. I’ve found that my anxiety rarely if ever does anything to help my child.
So now what? This is a deep subject, but here’s one story about how we overcame anxiety with our daughter.
There is no more important time for kids to know they are loved than when they misbehave. If the love message misses them then, they will grow to
believe that love is conditional or earned. People who believe that love is earned tend to rise and fall with their performance, and compromise themselves for approval. Not what we want for our kids.
One way children know they’re loved is if you simply say so, not in a condescending way, but from your heart, right there while your kids are misbehaving. (Sound crazy? Just try it!) But another powerful, perhaps less-well-known way to express love is by expressing understanding, or empathy.
Parents who learn to effectively discipline misbehaving kids learn to first calm themselves for this often difficult, emotion-laden task. We suggest that parents develop the habit to “Stop, Breathe, and Get Perspective.” But what does that look like? Here are six easy ways to “get perspective” as you calm your heart for discipline that connects.
Learning to receive God’s grace for ourselves, and then dispensing that grace to our kids, is the essence of becoming a safe parent. When we do this, we can focus more on caring for our children’s souls than on managing their misbehavior.
It starts with me. Kids provoke us. And when we’re provoked, we tend to reveal what’s really inside us – especially when the provocateurs are our very own little children. What’s revealed is often not a very pretty picture. Virtually every parent we’ve talked to in any depth admits, “I don’t like the me that comes out when I discipline my kids.” One said, “I am so competent at work and with friends. I’m on my game almost all the time. But when my kids act up it’s like I lose the ‘real me!’ I become someone I don’t know or like.”
The tough truth to swallow is that whatever comes out of us IS the “real me.” The goofy thing is, that as much as we tend to despise the “me” that emerges, by the beauty of God’s grace, we are accepted just as we are (but God doesn’t want to leave us unchanged!).
Playing games with our kids can be a fun way to connect. But what happens when one or more of the children struggles with losing gracefully?
Enjoyable playtime can quickly morph into a frustrating outburst.
Kids are upset, other players are uncomfortable, and everyone may begin to tiptoe around the “sore loser” — or even be tempted to let them win all the time to avoid a meltdown! Parents may even begin to worry about their child’s future life as a “sore loser”. If he can’t lose a simple game of checkers, what will happen when he doesn’t make the basketball team? Or when he doesn’t get the promotion he wants?
It can be scary to watch your child spiral out of control — but there’s a better way, a way that can help you reclaim the fun of family game time while also helping your child learn to lose gracefully.
“Are you going to help me or not?” I snapped at Daniel, our fifteen year-old-son. He’d been asking for the past hour to go to a friend’s house. I kept dodging his request while also badgering him to enlist his help in a backyard project I had planned.
“Dad, you’re annoying!” he snapped back. “You keep ignoring me. Get off my back!” I was a bit stunned by his sharp tone. He waited briefly for a response. When none came he folded his arms and announced, “I’m leaving.”