(We are kicking off our new book study on Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime.” Some of you may be familiar with Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s book, “Raising Your Spirited Child,” but this book is just as wonderful and I think applicable across a wide range of ages and stages. So grab a copy of the book and follow along! Also, check out IG and FB @theparentingpassageway for tips/reminders each week based off some of the ideas in each chapter so we can all have winning families and be the parents we want to be!)
Chapter Three is “Bringing Down the Intensity: You’re The Role Model.” The author jumps right in by saying, “Learning to express strong emotions, like anger and frustration, respectfully and selectively is learned behavior. You don’t have to be a victim of your emotions. You can choose your response. You don’t have to react.”
This is so often easier said then done! The connection between threatening or frustrating situations and stress hormones is clear. Our strong emotions can lead to pretty instinctual responses, such as striking back physically or screaming or yelling, giving in completely, shutting down, or emotionally distancing yourself from your child and just breaking off the relationship.
The problem is, none of these things really solve the problem. They don’t teach our children a new way to react, and they tear apart relationships.
- Change the frame. Our children are not out to get us, to make our lives miserable, they don’t have character flaws that are going to end them up with a wasted life. See their behavior for what it is. With older children you can ask them about the why’s. Give your child the benefit of the doubt and listen.
- Set standards….for yourself. What ways did your family express anger or frustration that you don’t want to repeat? What do some people around you do to express anger that you don’t want to do? Is it shaming, yelling, threatening (hopefully not hitting), swearing? What is your standard and how will you uphold it? Fear and intimidation may stop a behavior momentarily, or the whole thing may escalate – and does fear and intimidation teach your child how to deal with frustrating emotions or help your relationship with that child? The author suggests we fill in this sentence: “The next time I am angry, I promise myself that I will NOT……..” Fill in the blank that works for you.
- Monitor your feelings. Standards are goals, but emotions can really derail our best intentions. We need to learn how to identify early how to recognize what emotion WE are feeling, and diffuse it. If we don’t, then we are over the edge and go into the behavior we don’t want at all. Anger is usually a second emotion – we went past frustration, disappointment, fear, sadness and just went right into anger to cover that up. The way to start to learn to identify emotions early is to pause for fifteen second throughout the day and just note your feelings. Look for the big ones- hungry, tired, happy, irritated – and then for the more subtle emotions. If you find your emotion, you can choose a better response.
Part of this is knowing your stress cues. When you are stressed, what do you do? The author gives examples such as slamming doors, being impatients, screaming at the kids, not smiling, rushing, gritting or grinding our teeth. We can take the time to diffuse before we walk in the door or start bedtime routines. Recognize what the most vulnerable parts of the day really are for you. Many of us have control of how to tackle those daily or weekly spots, if we just recognize where those spots are!
4. Learn effective strategies. PAUSE is the biggest one. Take a break and come back (walking is a great break). If your child follows you and clings to your leg and won’t let you take a break away, you can have a time -in place where you can all sit together. There is a very moving story about this on pages 50-51 if you get a chance to read it. Some children who have had significant losses or separations, find a parent leaving to gather themselves traumatizing. Be sure to explain you are not abandoning them, you will come back. You can use a calming couch or chair (the time in all together method) or find great support for your child, like a neighbor or friend who can come over, and help you. I urge you to have a few friends or family members you can call when you desperately need a break and who will come no questions asked (and no judgement!).
Now is the time to make your plan and how you will handle things. This would also be a great topic to talk to your partner or other adults in the house about.
Blessings and love,