I thought with Mothers Day on the way I would re-post this piece I wrote for MotherWifeMe.com.
I am certainly not perfect on the ‘not shouting’ front but I do my best to follow my own advice! I hope you like my thoughts, please leave yours at the bottom. Cat x
All children will ‘behave badly’ at some point or another. Some parents seem to cope better at these points than others, but we can all learn their secret.
Why is bad behaviour ‘threatening’?
When dealing with our children’s behaviour at home we might not find it too difficult to remain calm, but when unwanted behaviour happens in public, particularly around people we know, we feel far more exposed and our self-esteem is threatened because we are fearful of being judge or criticised by those around us.
We are often also internally judging and criticising ourselves at the same time because we might be saying to ourselves “I can’t believe my child is behaving like this….why can’t I make them behave…maybe it’s my fault…”.
Our brain immediately responds to this threat to our self-esteem by triggering our ‘fight or flight’ reaction which causes a physiological and hormonal response; our heart might beat faster, our mouth might go dry, we might feel shaky, or hot, and we will describe this as feeling negative emotions; such as embarrassment, anger, anxiety or frustration.
Why do we react as we do?
If we are unaware what causes our emotions, then we will also be unaware that our subsequent actions are attempts to protect or repair our self-esteem. We do what makes ourselves feel better in some way—maybe scream at our child in order to try to regain control, or punish them, or smack them, or drag them away, and then later think “I wish I hadn’t done that, I wish I could have stayed calm”.
How can we stay calm?
Remaining calm when our child is misbehaving can be difficult, but the best way we can help ourselves is to maintain our self-confidence as a parent at that most potentially stressful of moments. Most of us feel like a terrible parent at one time or another and it is easy to perceive other parents as doing a better job than we are. Only by accepting ourselves as good enough, and maintaining our own self-esteem, will we be able to remain calm in a greater number of situations.
What is ‘bad behaviour’ about?
Children have virtually no experience of managing their feelings and emotions. Their budding independence brings with it intense frustration and confusion; ‘bad behaviour’ usually occurs at times when their anger or sadness becomes all-consuming so they ‘act-out’ their feelings against you, others, or themselves.
Bad behaviour is most likely when a child is hungry, tired or already upset and it can often coincide with moments when we as parents are distracted, stressed or trying to accomplish something that interferes with being ‘child-centred’, such as cooking a meal, or supermarket shopping.
If we can see the bad behaviour through the eyes of our child we have a much greater chance of helping them, and ourselves. We can often see it coming and sometimes we can quickly provide the rest, change of scene, snack, focused attention, or distraction our child needs, so that an incident can be avoided.
What to do ‘at the time’:
– If an ‘incident’ occurs then first of all we must say only positive things to ourselves under our breath, something like “it’s ok, behaviour like this will happen, it doesn’t mean I have a terrible child, or that I am a terrible parent, the calmer I can stay the better I will be able to deal with this… “
– We must try not to bribe our children to stop bad behaviour, the aim is not to appear to reward it. Instead we need to teach our children to understand their emotions so that they can calm themselves down, listen to what we are asking of them, and why we are asking it, and to handle their emotions better as they grow.
– We shouldn’t criticise, or over punish bad behaviour, if we can see the behaviour from the child’s perspective, then we can understand that there is a reason for it. They will become a ‘naughty child’ if we treat them like one. Remember, children need love most when they deserve it least.
– Empathise with your child and accept their extreme emotions, say “I know you feel angry, it’s okay, I’m here to help you calm down”. It may take a while for your child to talk or allow you a hug, but be patient and available. Don’t expect a child to “use words” when they are very upset.
– Once your child has calmed a little show understanding of his feelings by identifying and explaining what just happened. Use simple language such as “I know you really wanted to do.…”. Accept their emotion and validate their feelings whilst explaining why their behaviour was not appropriate. When they are calmer explain why and how they could have behaved differently
– A major disagreement can be a very useful learning opportunity for both of you if it is handled right, if you can ‘get to the bottom’ of why the emotions ran so deep, you will learn a lot about each other. If situations like this are handled insensitively however then our child’s trust in us can be damaged and therefore their burgeoning self-worth and self-confidence can be affected. Our children will feel a greater sense of trust and love for us if we can provide support, kindness and guidance during their most trying moments.
-What if we ‘lose it’.
We will not always be calm. As parents there will be times when we are particularly tired or stressed, and when we act towards our children in a way which we later regret.
The most important thing we can do after we have ‘lost it’ is to talk this through later on with our child. If we can explain our own emotions, and apologise for times when we are angry or thoughtless, then we will be teaching our child how to evaluate and understand their own behaviour, and how to make amends.
Being able to apologise shows healthy self-esteem because we are showing that we don’t always need to be ‘right’ and to try to appear ‘perfect’ in order to feel okay about ourselves. If we can explain our emotions and behaviour and admit our mistakes, then our children will learn to handle their own emotions in a calmer and more accepting way, and how to apologise if their behaviour occasionally lets them down.
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