Parenting is a triggering experience. When we deal with our kids, we’re also interfacing with ourselves as children, and the remnants of how we were parented (for better and for worse.)
As parents, we’re inundated with tips on how to manage our children’s problematic behavior. But the #1 tip doesn’t have to do with your kids; it’s all about you.
Kids are incredible mimics, and if you watch and listen to your kids with an eye to what you can learn about yourself, you might be surprised at what you discover. For example, when you’re snapping at your kids about their rude tone, what tone are you using yourself, or have you used recently?
Being able to step back and consider what we’re modeling for our kids is a crucial skill, and it’s often overlooked in parenting guides that are overly technique focused. The best technique is self awareness and reflection. It’s being able to think about whether you’re demonstrating the traits that you want your kids to inherit and imitate.
This might seem like a daunting (or even a frightening) task. By concentrating on our kids, we are inadvertently getting to avoid looking at our own baggage, or our own sub-optimal behaviors. Saying “What’s wrong with my kid and how do I fix it?” might be getting in the way of actually being able to fix it. You might be looking outward when you should be looking inward.
Now, this isn’t to bash parents. I get how incredibly hard this is, because I have to do it regularly myself. I have to recognize that the ways my daughter pushes my buttons are quite similar to the ways I push hers–that when I’m grumpy, so is she, and vice versa. We act on each other in reciprocal ways.
I’ve found that my triggers are predictable, as are many people’s. So I’m now more alert to my own mood state, and to the times of day when I’m most stressed. I get myself grounded and centered before I interact with her, and I self-monitor. I know when I need to step away.
I give myself time-outs before giving them to her, because often, I’m the one who needs one in order to deescalate the situation. And I tell her this specifically: “I’m taking a break so that I can get myself under control and speak to you the way I want you to speak to me.” I’ve noticed she’s doing this herself: slowing down and noticing her own triggers and when she needs to step away.
Knowing that I’m a part of the problem has been really empowering, actually. Because it means that I can meaningfully contribute to the solutions. I need to be the person I want her to be.