Maggie is 3 years old and has quite a temper. If she doesn’t get what she wants, there is screaming, tears and fists pounding on the floor. Her parents mean well. They try to give her what she wants to ease the tantrums. But sometimes even giving in doesn’t work. Instead, mom loses her temper and yells, “Enough! Stop crying! Calm down!” As mom’s anger flares, so does Maggie’s. Then, they both start crying. Within minutes, Maggie goes on her way, as if nothing ever happened. Mom is left to sort through what just happened.
“Why do I feel so angry? Why can’t she just behave? Where did I go wrong? I am a failure.”
Maggie’s mom is not alone, many parents come to this conclusion. Many parents believe that it is their job to create a peaceful home. One without screaming. One where every child complies without complaining. This thought is often subconscious. However, if these “expectations” do not occur, parents often take the blame.
What is a parent’s role? Rather than forcing your children to comply, it is your job to be with them in the struggle. To teach skills, support them as they learn and provide feedback either in the form of encouragement or consequences.
This is a challenging role.
If you want your child to comply, to talk calmly or do their chores, you have to back off and let them work through the problem. And sometimes, even let them struggle, until they see the end result.
This is not an easy task for parents because we often look at our children’s behavior as a reflection of our parenting. So, if a child follows the rules, we feel good about ourselves. (“I’m a great parent!”) But when our children misbehave, we often take the blame. (“I’m a horrible parent.”)
No one wants to feel like a bad parent.
So, parents intervene – attempting to get control of the situation. Maggie’s mom may have been feeling like a failure as she witnesses yet another of her child’s meltdowns. In response to this, she yells, “Calm down!” Her internal dialogue may sound like this, “I feel helpless right now. I have no idea what to do to make you stop screaming. A good parent would know what to do. I feel out of control. I’m a failure.”
I’m not suggesting passive, uninvolved parenting without discipline, structure or rules. I am recommending that parents change their thought process. Instead of feeling the burden of making sure your kids are well-behaved and compliant in every situation, focus on teaching, modeling and practicing the behavior you want to see from your children.
As your child learns new skills, there will be a learning curve. Your child will have good days and bad days – and so will you. On the good days, encourage them to keep up the good work. On the challenging days, provide natural and logical consequences to reinforce the behavior, and give an extra dose of snuggles and love.
Maggie’s mom worked hard to change her parenting strategies and her thought process. Maggie does have meltdowns from time to time, but they are less frequent. Mom tries to remember to give her choices when possible. They practice taking deep breaths when Maggie is calm. Most importantly, when she is feeling overwhelmed or stressed by a meltdown, Maggie’s mom has a few new mantras: “She’s only three. Tantrums are normal. She is safe. She is asserting her independence. I am calm.”
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