Growing up I remember telling myself, as all kids do, I would never become like my parents. Having grown up in a Russian home, things were always done a little differently at our place. The food was always different, as were the conversations, and disciplining.
I may have been a very frustrating child, or you could call it “passion", but yelling, shouting, and sometimes smacking (in the early days) was common practice and back in the day wasn't really anything that was frowned upon. This post is not a dig at my parents at all, I love them to bits, but my past and my experience has started to manifest in me as a parent and I find myself in a shocking situation vowing that would never treat my child like my parents treated me.
My son Orlando is just shy of his second birthday. He has been pushing the boundaries lately with hitting, scratching, pinching and biting. We have tried all calm approaches but this week in particular his attacks have been so painful I've gone into mindless shouting to snap him out of it and stop. To honest, the look on his face, of shear terror to hear his mummy like that has been permanently etched in my memory. I feel like such a scummy mummy.
Yesterday it really got under my skin. I was adamant to break the pattern, and did a little research on the topic. What I found out horrified me even more.
If you're a yeller or smacker, the good news is it's never too late to reform. This morning when Orlando woke up I gave him the biggest cuddle and said mummy will never speak to you that way ever again. I will never hurt your feelings like that. To which he responded with "Mummy cuddle?" He gave me the warmest cuddle, a knowing pat on the back and then said "Better?"
I seriously could have died right there and then.
So what do you do?
Author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Dr. Laura Markham on her website Aha! Parenting suggest the following 10 steps.
1. Realise that your #1 job as a parent (after safety) is to manage your own emotions
...because that's how your child learns emotional regulation--from your modeling.
2. Commit to your family that you'll use a respectful voice.
I know, that's scary. But who else will keep you accountable? Tell your kids that you're learning, so you'll make mistakes...but that you'll get better and better at it.
3. Remember that kids will act like kids
That’s their job! They're immature humans, learning how things work and what to expect. They need to push on limits to see what's solid. They need to experiment with power so they can learn to use it responsibly. Their frontal cortex isn't fully developed, so their emotions often take over, which means they can't think straight when they're upset. And, like other humans, they don't like feeling controlled.
4. Stop gathering "kindling"
...those resentments you start to pile up when you're having a bad day. Once you have enough kindling, a firestorm is inevitable. Instead, stop, take responsibility for your own mood, give yourself what you need to feel better, and shift yourself to a happier place.
5. Offer empathy when your child expresses emotion -- any emotion
...so she'll start to accept her own feelings, which is the first step in learning to manage them. Once children can manage their emotions, they can manage their behavior. Feeling understood also keeps kids from going off the deep end with their upsets so often.
6. Stay connected and see things from your child's perspective, even while you're setting limits.
When kids believe that we're on their side and understand even when we need to say no, they WANT to "behave," so they're more cooperative. Shouldn't you "correct"? Not until you connect, first. Until your child feels understood and reconnected, he can't hear your guidance. There's always time to talk later, once you and your child have both calmed down and you're starting from the warmth between you, instead of from your anger.
7. When you get angry, STOP.
Shut your mouth. Don't take any action or make any decisions. BREATHE deeply. If you're already yelling, stop in mid-sentence. Turn away and shake out your hands. Resist that urgent need to "set your child straight." The urgency means you're still in "fight or flight." Don't take action until you're calm.
8. Take a parent time-out.
Remove yourself from the situation if possible. If you can't leave, run some water and splash it on your face to shift your attention from your child to your inner state. Under your anger is fear, and sadness, and disappointment. Let all that well up, and just breathe. Let the tears come if you need to. Once you let yourself feel what's under the anger--without taking action--the anger will just melt away.
9. Find your own wisdom.
From this calmer place, imagine there's an angel on your shoulder who sees things objectively and wants what's best for everyone in the situation. This is your own personal parenting coach. What does she say? Can she give you a mantra to see things differently, like:
"I don't have to "win" here...I can let him save face."
What would she suggest to get things on a better path? What can you do right now? (Don't skip this step. Research shows it works!)
10. Take positive action from this calmer place.
That might mean that you try a do-over. It might mean you apologize. It might mean you get your cranky child laughing, and if that doesn't work, support her through a good cry so that you can all have a better day. It might mean you blow off the dishes and just snuggle under the covers with your kids and a pile of books until everyone feels better. Just take one step toward helping everyone feel, and do, better -- including you.
The bad news? This is hard. It takes tremendous self-control, and you'll find yourself messing up over and over again. Don't give up.
The good news? It works. It gets easier and easier to stop while you're yelling, and then to stop even before you open your mouth. Just keep moving in the right direction. At some point, you'll realize that it’s been months since you yelled at anyone.
The better news? Your child will transform, right in front of your eyes. You'll see him working hard to control himself when he gets angry, instead of lashing out. You'll see him cooperating more. And you'll see him "listen" -- when you haven't even raised your voice.
Would love some feedback on this topic from all my mummies out there. It's so hard to control your emotions especially when you're exhausted. We are all doing our best, whatever that may be, and that's always good enough. Our kids are resilient and will forgive us for the mistakes we may make along the way. This gig ain't easy.
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