I was so upset.
I didn’t have a choice.
The decision was made and it caught me off guard.
Suddenly I was in fight-or-filght mode. I was angry!
I texted a friend about the situation: “I didn’t even have a say! This was decided for me…no one even asked how I felt about it!”
She had nothing to do with it, but started trying to fix it, “I’ll just make some calls…”
“No!” I could feel my heart pounding even harder now. “Thank you for the offer, but I don’t need you to fix it.”
I’m sure she was feeling at a loss, not being able to fix it, not knowing what to say.
After the anger wore off and I was thinking clearly again, I realized – I just needed someone to listen. I needed someone to acknowledge that it is a horrible feeling when someone makes a decision for you. And it’s hard to feel powerless to change a situation.
This situation made me stop and think about my parenting.
I bet they could relate.
The question we should be asking.
As parents, we are constantly on the hunt for the “perfect” response when our kids act out, whine, or beg us to change our minds.
We want to know the “secret” response that will make him calm down or make her agree with the limit or boundary we set.
Unfortunately, the more time we spend looking for that response, the more frustrated we become.
What if we looked at the situation differently?
What would happen if we started thinking…
How would I like someone to respond to me if I was in this situation?”
It’s a simple mind shift that can make a world of difference for you and your kids.
Why this is important.
Empathy is the practice of understanding how another person feels by putting yourself in their shoes. Seeing things from their perspective.
When you are empathetic with others, they feel heard. They feel like you “get” them and “get” what they’re going through.
Empathy is key to supporting our kids through their big feelings.
But sometimes, getting to empathy is a big jump.
All you see is a melting down, screaming child in front of you. And your own “fight-or-flight alarm” starts to sound and you are thrown into panic mode.
It’s hard to be empathetic when you’re in panic mode.
Instead, you try everything else you can think of: consoling, fixing, minimizing, distracting, threatening, and bribing. And when that doesn’t work, you end up yelling.
Want to break this cycle?
Here’s how it works.
First, take a deep breath (or 3!)
Then, ask yourself, “How would I like someone to respond to me if I was in this situation?”
Run through a few scenarios…
- Would I feel better if someone told me to “calm down” or “take a deep breath”?
- Would I feel better if someone said, “Life’s not fair. Get over it”?
- Would I feel better if someone said, “Here, let me do it for you”?
- Would I feel better if someone said, “Those friends are no-good, when are you going to learn”?
Ok. Probably not.
Then, explore some things that may actually help you feel better:
- An understanding smile
- A big hug
- A simple sound like, “oh!” or “hmmm”
- “Tell me more about that”
- A calm centered person who’s not in “panic mode”
- Someone who matches the intensity of your emotions with empathy
- A parent who sets a limit with kindness (without adding additional punishments or threats when you disagree or feel upset)
How can you be that or do that for your child in this moment?
One thing to keep in mind.
You and your child are different.
Just because you can identify what you would need in this situation, doesn’t mean it’s going to match what your child needs.
Maybe you are a cuddler, but your child is not. Maybe you need time to think, but your child needs to process things out loud.
Asking this question doesn’t mean you and your child need to handle challenges in the same way, the goal is to help you shift your thinking.
When you start to think about the situation as something that could happen to you, you can see it differently. You can imagine how your child may feel. What they may be thinking.
And you can tailor your response in a way that helps them feel heard.
You may find some responses work better than others. This is good information, information you can use next time the panic sets in and you don’t know the “right” thing to say or do.
You don’t have to get it right every time. But, don’t give up when one thing doesn’t work.
Take a break, think it through, and try again.