A father told me a story recently of a family outing that had a rough ending. Loading up in the car after a fun bike ride, the dad asked his older daughter to share her water bottle with her baby sister who was crying and asking for water. Older daughter refused, several times, with rudeness, ignoring, and defiance. It quickly became a power struggle, and this dad told me later that he was so mad that he came “this” close to just yanking the water bottle out of her hand.
I think we’ve all been there (I know I have.) Especially when we ourselves are tired, hungry, emotionally drained, or stressed–our children’s negative behaviors can really push us to–or past–our limits. Yanking, yelling, whatever your version of “not parenting the way I want to” is… everyone has had that moment.
When this father and I talked about this incident later, he was still full of self-doubt. What was he “supposed” to do? His daughter was being uncooperative, unkind, defiant, and disrespectful–all traits that we parents believe that we are supposed to teach our kids NOT to be. He wondered if he had done the wrong thing by letting her “get away with” those bad behaviors. He worried that he was teaching her that she doesn’t have to respect him, or his limits, or his authority.
My take on this scene is that the immediate need was a moment’s pause, a deep breath to help everyone regain their inner balance, even just a little. In that moment, here are a few items our higher selves might be able to remember:
- Right now, we are ALL tired and thirsty and hungry, so no one is at their best… these behaviors are definitely related to our physical states.
- When a person is stressed (tired/thirsty…) they CANNOT learn.
- This child of mine is, usually, pretty darn cool and cooperative and kind. The behavior in front of me now is NOT the norm. (refer back to #1.)
- I need to calm my own anxieties about raising a good kid here, and remember that taking the long view is key in parenting.
- When my brain is peaceful, I can see solutions or options that would otherwise be overlooked. In this situation, there were other water bottles available, so that the immediate need (baby’s thirst) could be handled.
- The non-immediate issues (defiance, etc) can be handled later! When we have all come back to our normal selves (rested, watered, fed, etc) I can bring this incident back up for discussion with my child. Her ability and likelihood to listen, discuss and absorb will be 1000% improved.
When we are peaceful, we have better perspective, more creativity, and are more effective in whatever we do. So when you find yourself in the moments of high conflict and parenting stress–just try to remember to take a breath. Then take another… and very soon your own inner best self will show you what comes after that.