By Samantha Vickery © 2013
What's your perspective?
Parenting is filled with moments of extreme happiness interspersed with moments of sheer frustration, and sometimes blinding anger. It is these moments of anger that parents can really struggle with in their quest to parent their children in a loving and respectful way.
I hear a lot of guilt coming from parents who tell me they 'couldn't help but shout,' 'got so angry they used time out,' 'felt a surge of vindictive spite' and 'wanted to use punishment in teaching their child a lesson.' So what sparked these feelings - these extreme and overwhelming reactions?
The majority of the time it is something very simple. A spilt drink, or perhaps a purposely poured one. A refusal to get dressed or go to bed. A meltdown at the end of bath time. A stand off over leaving the park.
In our calmest moments, when our angels are sleeping soundly and we are relaxing with a hot drink, we can look back at these moments and see them for what they really are. Nothing but minor hiccups in an otherwise smooth day, that had they been dealt with in a calm manner, would have likely fizzled out into nothing. Instead, these small incidents were turned into day-destroying catastrophes that made everyone miserable. But why is this so easy to see now, yet so hard to reason with in the heat of the moment?
Our reactions are programmed in to us from our own parents and the way we were treated as children. If our own parents were likely to fly off the handle at the smallest thing, it will take more than just deciding not to do the same things to avoid repeating the same cycles. It takes practice and mindfulness to overcome these patterns of behavior.
Anger is a valid emotion, and shoving it deep down, ignoring it, is not healthy for anyone. However, we should be wary of letting it rule us and control our behavior. Recognizing our anger triggers, and responsibly trying to avoid them, is a great first step. By pulling in support, eating regularly, keeping hydrated, resting whenever we can, and prioritizing our to do lists, we can take responsibility for keeping ourselves on an even keel.
But what if the trigger is external, like a whining child or an aggressive teenager? How can we keep calm when things happen that we have no control of?
Take a breath and wait. We do not need to rush into a reaction immediately. The situation has happened and there is no undoing it. Take another breath. Acknowledge your feelings – anger, frustration and tiredness. They are real and valid, but they do not need to control you. Breathe again.
Assess the situation
What has actually
happened? On first glimpse you might see your child painting the wall, but take a moment. See the situation from an objective point of view. Is your child doing this to make you angry, or are they, in fact, simply exploring the resources at hand? You may see a poured glass of water over the rug, but wait - are they trying to antagonise you, or are they simply going through a phase of fascination when it comes to water? What's the damage? Can you fix it easily or is it going to be costly. Has anyone been hurt? Identify the facts before reacting, and try not to make it worse than it actually is. Often a damp cloth or a towel will be enough to undo the damage.
Identify the need
Why has the situation occurred? Are they bored, curious, copying outside behaviour (often a reason in the case of hitting/biting). Are they overtired, hungry, feeling cooped up, overstimulated? Do they have an overwhelming need to explore and discover a particular resource? Have you made time for them today? Are you feeling connected? If not, consider why not and how you can remedy this.
The initial anger that you felt should have passed by now. It is that immediate and instinctual reaction that robs us of our control and leads to overreactions. By mindfully going through the process and putting the situation in to perspective, it is easier to react gently and reasonably, taking in to consideration the perspectives of the others involved. You can now come to a loving solution without feeling engulfed in anger, though you may still feel wronged in some way. Make the choice to take control of your emotions and the situation at hand, rather than letting the emotion control you.
Your instinctive reactions will evolve over time and with mindful practice. Sometimes we make mistakes and give in to the anger, loosing control and overreacting, but it is important that we are mindful and reflective of these occasions, taking the time to apologise for our mistakes, so that we can avoid repeating the same pattern the next time. When we are able to come at a situation calmly and rationally, we can see the answer to resolve it far more clearly. We can meet our needs and those of our children, and go on to enjoy the rest of our day.
Gentle and peaceful parenting is not about never making mistakes, nor is it about perfectionism. We are all learning and growing throughout our parenting journey, striving to do the best we can for our children. In being more present and mindful, we can truly begin to enjoy our children and reduce the stresses during our days with them. We can really begin to love parenting and all that it involves!
Related reading in the gentle discipline book collection.
is a mother and writer, who is passionate about natural and Continuum parenting. She believes in trusting children, which is the strong message behind her parenting guide, Trust Me, I'm A Toddler
. She writes at Love Parenting
where she hopes to help others to find more joy within their parenting journey, and create powerful connections with their children.