This is the second in a three part parenting series. Read Part 1 here.
Peaceful parenting…..what kind of thoughts come to your mind as you read those words? Do you ever “lose it” with your children, then afterwards, you wonder where that came from and why you did it? Several years ago, I listened to a CD about the importance of staying calm in all situations and interactions with children. By the time I was finished listening to the audio, I was not happy nor inspired to “be calm”. I was a little bit upset-OK a lot upset! “I can’t just BE caIm all the time! It’s not possible!” “I don’t have control over how my body and mind just react before I even think about what’s going on-the reaction just happens!” “There needs to be a CD on HOW to be calm-not just why we should be calm!” These thoughts kept going through my head, and I was getting more and more upset as I focused on excuses.
Stephen Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, taught that there is always a space between stimulus and our response – a space to make a split second decision about how we will act or react to that stimulus. When I first read about that concept, I thought he was off his rocker. There is no space between the stimulus (in my case, my children being ridiculous) and my response (losing my temper). Sometimes when my children would do things that triggered me, I could feel my whole body seething, and I was shaking inside. Most of the time it wasn’t that extreme, but I wasn’t always calm when it came to responding to my children. Deep down, I knew Stephen Covey must be right, but I had no idea how to create a space between stimulus and response so I could make that split-second decision to BE calm, which was what my children really needed from me.
As parents, we all have moments where we “lose it” with our children. Our children need our love, and when we react, they don’t feel loved. That’s basic, common sense. So, how do we change our reactions so we peacefully interact with our children even when they “push our buttons” or trigger us?
When you get upset at your children, understand that it’s not about their behavior, it’s about your behavior. How will you respond? Let’s take the example of spilled milk. Your family is eating dinner together, enjoying your meal, when your child reaches for something and knocks his cup over. The milk goes everywhere. How do you respond? Do you clean it up and tell your child it’s ok, it was an accident? Or do you get upset, telling them to pay attention and watch what they’re doing? The situation was the same – spilled milk. Your reaction was what made the difference. The child’s offense could be worse, they could even be intentionally trying to get you upset, but does that matter? Our relationship with them is about our response to them and how we see them.
If that’s the case, then we can change how we see and respond to them by changing what’s inside of us that’s causing the negative reaction. Here are three ideas to help you get started.
1. Forgive childhood programming. Computers and people run on programming. There are certain things we learn and perceive about ourselves when we are children that stick with us our whole lives. For instance, if we grew up feeling like we were not good enough, we are likely still running on that program. And when our children act out, it can trigger those feelings of not being good enough-possibly because when they act out, we think we’re not a good enough parent or maybe our kids act like we don’t know what we’re talking about. We start to blame our children for their behavior, and it becomes a cycle that can brings stress, overwhelm, anger, etc. So, forgive the fact that our childhood perceptions caused this crazy programming. Forgive ourselves for having these false beliefs that may be running the show. As we do this, we may begin to see our children in a new light-as little people with feelings instead of objects that make us upset.
2. Write and burn. As you come to an understanding of some of your childhood perceptions and programming, write them down on a piece of paper. Write down who you are upset with and why. Write down who wronged you, the beliefs and emotions that you feel. Let yourself feel the emotions as they come out. You can write about a specific situation or feelings in general. After you’ve got it all written down and out of your system, go outside and burn the paper. If you are not in a place where that would be safe, then rip up your paper into little pieces and flush them down the toilet. Do this right when you get triggered if you can. Give yourself a little “time out” and go write down what’s bothering you. Another option is to wake up a little earlier in the morning when you will have some peace and quiet, and you can ponder and write without interruption. Do this as much as you need to. It will help you clean out your system and become more positive. This process is a way to literally let go of perceptions inside you that are causing those crazy reactions.
3. Look at yourself. It’s easy to blame those around us for our emotions, feelings, and reactions. Begin to look at yourself and how you see your family. Sometimes it’s ingrained in us that if this or that person would change then we would be happy. Happiness comes from within. Changing another person will never make us happy. Changing ourselves will.
Peaceful parenting is possible for all of us. It just takes a little bit of effort to work on helping ourselves from the inside out. As we begin to let go of old patterns, forgive, and change the way we see our family, our parenting will naturally become more calm and understanding. We will relate with our children and spouse in a more loving and open way, and we will be able to create a more peaceful home.