It’s around 4 o’clock on a rainy day. The kids are bored. You are tired. Maybe you have a work deadline, maybe you’re trying to finish a personal project, or just wanting to organize an area of the house before the clutter gets out of control. Or maybe you just want a little break from the hubbub - but there is no break for a couple more hours (and before then, you have to get dinner made, and keep two rambunctious kids happy). You set said children up on an activity, and decide to hop on your computer (or crack open your favorite novel or get started on that organizing project), for what you hope is a few minutes of “adult” time. But then, the bickering starts. This, you can ignore, until the voices get closer, and start including you: “Mom, she said THIS” and “But MOMMMMM, he took THIS”. And then, something crashes in the kitchen. “Moooooommmmmm!!!!!” You feel your blood pressure rising, and you start out calm, but as you come around the corner of the kitchen to see the bowl you’d prepared earlier in the day so dinner prep would go smoothly, smashed and broken all over the kitchen floor, and before you know it, your voice comes out just a bit louder & harsher than you wanted, and instead of helping them start the cleaning effort, you opt for the escalating loud voice and flailing arms: “What’s going ON in HERE? I just wanted to read for FIVE. MINUTES. Can’t you kids GET ALONG? YOU’RE ALWAYS FIGHTING!!!!” Which of course, isn't true, isn't helpful, and results in nothing being accomplished – other than the kids looking at you wide-eyed and warily like they’re not sure what’s going to happen next, and you feeling badly for yelling and acting like a child yourself. The mess is still on the floor, the kids’ argument wasn’t resolved, and everyone is still in a state of highly charged emotion.
Sound familiar? I think we’ve all been at a point where we have had enough. And even though we know better, the perfect storm of events happens right under our own noses, and our self control is sucked away, leaving us with the bare bones of discipline techniques that our parents bestowed on us.
I think responses like this, when they aren’t habitual, are just visceral reactions; and often not even controllable in the moment. Maybe we’re tired or hungry or our patience has been all used up or we’re touched out. But these moments – they don’t define us; or our parenting. We feel awful about them; and I always try to remember that the feeling badly afterwards is a good emotional response. It’s a reminder to do better, try harder, and come up with tools that work more effectively, so our immediate reaction is more in line with what our planned out reaction to aggravation is like (the responses that we’re proud of and feel help us and our children learn how to deal with anger and aggravation in a positive and productive way – we’ve all had those moments too).
(Artist: Mindaugas Danys Source: Flickr)
So what can you do when the perfect storm hits? Well, there’s the lead-up to the storm… and there’s the aftermath. Let’s start with the aftermath:
The first thing I do is apologize. But I don’t just say sorry – I try to explain to my kids why I was feeling how I was feeling, acknowledge their feelings, and I use the opportunity to model what I’d like to hear/see from them. I also use gentle touch – like a hug or a pat on the shoulder, or even just getting down on their level so we see eye to eye.
I’m sorry that I yelled at you in the kitchen; I bet that was scary for you. I was feeling so aggravated at having to get up from my seat and because I was distracted by my aggrivation, I wasn’t paying attention to using my words carefully.
Next thing I do is talk about how I could have changed the outcome, or what I could do, or we could do together to fix the situation.
Next time, I will try to be more patient in my response. Yelling doesn’t help the situation. What do you think I could have done to help the situation? Is there anything you could have done differently to help the people around you feel more comfortable? I know you didn’t mean to break the bowl; let’s clean it up together.
I have found that children are incredibly forgiving and peace-loving. They strive for harmony and the thought of holding a grudge doesn’t come naturally. Often times I’ll start to talk about why I felt badly or acted in a way I wasn’t thrilled with and they’ve already moved on. In which case, the best thing to do is…
Forgive myself. When I realize that I may have acted in a way that’s less than ideal, but have apologized and thought about ways to do it differently next time, I also realize that the simple act of awareness is a big step towards making a change. I forgive myself the lapse of peaceful parenting prowess, realize my children have forgiven me, and I forgive myself. And then…
I move on to what I can do to better handle future perfect storms. I get a game plan in place. What tools do I have and what tools do I need to obtain and develop in order to handle a kid storm in a way that is calm, and guiding, not a way that leaves me wishing I’d done things differently? My game plan is a bit like this:
Firstly, and probably most importantly, I stay aware of my inner balance. If I’m feeling out of balance – if I start to realize that the kids noise level is sounding consistently to loud to me, when I know it’s really not too loud, or if I’m finding myself annoyed by things that shouldn’t be that annoying, I take stock of what’s going on in my body and mind at the moment, and fix whatever I can fix. If I’m hungry or thirsty, I get a snack or drink. If I’m tired, I set up a quiet activity and I lie down with them while they play and rest for a few minutes or alternatively, I choose an activity that requires some action to get my blood flowing – running up and down the stairs a few times, or doing yoga with the kids or getting outside and walking around (I know it’s hard in the winter, but there's something about fresh air and nature that rejuvinates, energizes, and balances). If I’m overwhelmed, I either ask for help – if it’s available – or I figure out what can be cut from my current “to do’s” and I decide not to feel bad about cutting it. If it just happens that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and can’t come up with a good reason for my mood, I’ll acknowledge that – maybe I’ll mention it to my kids, “Guys, I’m in kind of a crummy mood, so let’s all try to be extra kind to each other today”, then, I’ll have a piece of chocolate, a cup of coffee, and forgive myself for not having an ideal day, and talk myself into grinning and bearing it. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of alone time (and “alone time” really can be your computer and a cup of coffee while your little ones play quietly at your feet – and you’re browsing through blogs or looking at magazines that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with parenting) to regain my peaceful center.
(Artist: Aussiegall Source: Flickr)
Secondly, I make sure I have a plan of action in place for what to do when my center has been lost, and I feel the storm coming on. Things like:
- Realizing I don’t have to intervene in every altercation. In fact, unless they are hurting each other, it’s best to let the kids work out small disagreements themselves. When they realize they have the tools to resolve issues, they will do so more and more often without calling MOM!!! every time something doesn’t go exactly as planned. That’s a lot of aggravation, avoided.
- Stepping away from the heat of moment instead of lunging straight for it. Sometimes, if I know I’m feeling irritable, and not likely to have the most measured response, instead of heading for my kids’ argument, I will head for another room. I have said many a time to my children: “I’m taking a time out”. Giving myself space, a few moments to breathe and think, help me clarify the situation and come up with a more level-headed response.
- Deciding to speak slowly and quietly when I feel like yelling. If I encounter the urge to yell, I use it as a signal to speak softly and choose words carefully. Or instead of saying something grumpy, saying something goofy. Realizing in the midst of a kid storm, sometimes the opposite reaction is the best – like laughing instead of arguing.
- Acknowledging that I can’t fix every problem, take on every issue, or respond to every outburst. My kids’ reactions and moods belong to them, and I don’t have to respond in kind. If my children yell at me, I don’t need to yell back. If my children are being grumpy, sometime it’s okay to just let them be grumpy; it’s not my fault they are grumpy, and I don’t have to take it personally. Modeling cool and calm, owning my own feelings & letting them own theirs is always good.
- Remembering that not every interaction needs to be the perfect learning and teaching moment. Sometimes the scissors just need to be taken away when they are being brandished at a sibling as a weapon; I don’t need to wait for them to be passed while explaining and talking over alternatives to the current scissor-wielding behavior.
And sometimes the television needs to be turned on and the children sat down in front of it so that I can step away and regain my cool. I love what Annie at PhdinParenting said about the TV: “I’m not a fan of using television as a babysitter. But I am a big fan of using television to avoid mistreating my children and damaging our relationship.” (from her post Ready to Snap) What I mean is, sometimes I find myself so wrapped up in how I can best parent through a moment, and get so guilty over what message am I sending and what lesson am I teaching and why can’t I figure this out or get them to figure this out, when the children aren’t responding to my explanations and descriptions, that I end up getting more riled up than if I’d just responded quickly and done what I needed to do in that moment, and worried about fixing the message later (if even necessary). Not every single moment of parenting needs to be educational.
And finally, when all is said and done, I realize that every day I’m doing the best I can. Some days are awesome, some days are less so, but most of the time, I’m a good mom, I’m kind to my children, I apologize when I’m not, and I forgive myself and try to do better in the future – for them and for me. That’s the best anyone can do.