Originally published at WonderfulMama online magazine
‘You promised yourself you would never be “that kind of mum”, but here you are. Strengthening the relationship you have with your child, even in the face of distressing or heated interactions, can be done.’ Penny Gibson of Capacity Therapeutic Services shares her insights on parent-child relationship building.
You are feeling guilty and ashamed. You promised yourself you would never be “that kind of mum”, but here you are. And it feels crappy to lose control like that. Chances are, you’re not reading this immediately after such an incident. Rather, you’re wondering what you could do differently next time.
Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up. We all lose control of our emotions sometimes and this is particularly true when we are sleep deprived. Regardless of our age, emotions can rule our behaviour. The thinking brain is switched off and the emotional part overrides. It can be near impossible to find the space to think and be calm, which usually means that we can respond in irrational, inappropriate and immediate ways.
Strengthening the relationship you have with your child, even in the face of distressing or heated interactions, can be done. In fact, this is where some of the juiciest parent-child relationship building takes place. Here are some practical tips for how you can achieve this.
How can I “fix” it?
Adopt an attitude and motivation to resolve it with your child. All is not lost. Apologise and explain that you didn’t mean to yell. Describe that you got angry but it was wrong to yell at her. This is a great opportunity to normalise feelings and say that we all feel angry sometimes. Also of high importance is stressing to your child that she is not to blame for the way you reacted. You can, however, help her to understand the implications of her actions. From the age of two or three, your child will start to understand how her behaviour affects both of you, and once aged four or five, will typically become more cooperative and able to control her behaviour.
During these crucial pre-school years, you can promote your child’s emotional learning and development by putting words to big feelings or investing in time to recover from challenging interactions. Develop a few sentences that are assertive and encourage accountability, such as “I feel frustrated when you don’t listen to my instructions” or “Please next time when I ask you to do something, do your best to listen and respond.”
Reflect, reflect, reflect
It’s unfair to expect more of our kids than they are capable of. A two-year-old is incapable of consciously behaving badly because their thinking brain is yet to develop. A four-year-old is developmentally preoccupied with learning how to master her world and can be expected to use power and control (read: Challenging Behaviour) to assert herself. Furthermore, your young child is unable to understand or reason why you, her parent, are yelling at her.
What did your child need from you during that moment before you got angry? What was going on for you? Were you preoccupied, stressed, task-focused, running late? If you’re making demands on your child because of time constraints, she is likely to find this confusing, unexpected and somewhat frightening. You can be annoyed at yourself for losing track of time but do your best to refrain from taking it out on your child. Instead, try to calm and clear in your manner and repeat the necessary instructions to get you on your way!
Practice and model
We want to teach children how to access their rational and logical brain rather than relying on their primitive and reactionary brain. So it’s important to role model what that looks like. One way of remaining calm and objective is to practice mindful parenting with a mantra such as, “Stop. Pause. Respond.” Stop what you are doing and plant your feet firmly into the ground; pause to focus on your breath; count in 1, out 2, in 3, out 4, up to 10. Children as young as four years old can join you in some breathing too! Being in this state allows you to be more thoughtful or considered in the way you respond (accessing the rational brain!). This will likely give you a perspective of what your child needs or how they might be feeling.
Although it might seem like a minor distinction, responding, rather than reacting, tends to keep those involved in the interaction happier and avoids making things worse. As children get older and continue pushing boundaries, there is great value in having practised strategies to support your limit setting.
Reduce criticism, increase care
Allow yourself and your child to make mistakes. In the bigger picture, your relationship is more important than a broken glass or being late. Apologise, reflect, learn and move on.
Make time for exercise or movement every day. Research has shown that exercise is one of the biggest factors in reducing relapse of negative mood symptoms. Goodbye impatience and frustration, hello perspective and optimism!
Get some sleep. We all cope better, think clearer, and have greater patience after a good night’s sleep. Work out a way to catch some proper z’s, even once a week or fortnight.
If you would like some simple and effective disciplining strategies that take out the emotion and talking, reduce highly distressing interactions, and help your child to develop their self-regulation, get in touch with Penny. She is a trained and licensed practitioner in the 1-2-3 Magic® & Emotion Coaching parenting program, which has been proven to develop children’s ability to manage their emotional reactions to parental boundaries.