“I want that toy!” your child demands.
“Not today, honey. We’re just here for a few things.”
“I really want that toy.”
“I know, but…”
Definitely, your child interrupts, “All the other kids have one, and I want one too. I’m putting it in the cart.”
“Oh, um…we’ll see…OK.”
Confused and defeated, you roll the cart to the checkout and purchase the toy.
You don’t want to buy it. Really. You wish you could put your foot down and set some limits, but it’s not that simple.
You don’t want to rock the boat. You don’t want your child to be upset. You don’t want other people to judge. You don’t want to start a tantrum.
Sometimes it’s easier to just give in or give up.
If you’re ready to shift into a place of confident assertiveness in your parenting, here are some tips:
- Understand your history: If you came from a family of yellers, you may have decided to go in the opposite direction. Maybe you are a peacemaker and don’t want to see anyone upset. Or maybe, you are quiet by nature.
- Examine your fears: Be curious about those moments when you respond passively. Worry can cause you to freeze, to be silent, or to want to run away. See if there is an underlying anxiety or concern driving you to this response.
- Notice the triggers: Which situations are more difficult for you to stand firm? Which situations cause you to feel like clamming up or giving in? The more you know about your triggers, the better you will be at identifying when they are impacting your parenting.
- Find your voice: Assertive parenting doesn’t mean angry, loud, or obnoxious. It is a confident tone. Give yourself permission to experiment by saying something passively, aggressively and assertively. Notice the difference. Practice shifting your volume or tone until you feel confident.
- Use body language: You can also shift your confidence level by changing your posture. Stand up straight, roll your shoulders back, lift your chin, and take a full, deep breath. Work on finding an empathetic facial expression, rather than panic, worry, anger or aggression (use a mirror to experiment!).
- Take it slow: If you feel pressured to make a decision, STOP. Pause. Take a deep breath. This will give you time to see the situation clearly and examine your options. Your child’s tantrum is not time to panic! Big feelings are OK, and you can support them as they move from upset back to calm.
- Tune into your child: There are times when you need to stick with the boundary and there are times when attending to your child’s needs, compromising, or problem-solving will be the better choice. The difference may not always be clear. Give yourself permission to take a deep breath and ask, “Is it more important to stand firm or be flexible in this situation?” Or, “What lesson do I want to teach? Is this the best time/place to teach it?”
Back to the store
“Pllleeease mom. I reallllyy need this toy.”
Taking a deep breath, you realize your heart is beating a mile a minute. Your hands are gripped tightly around the cart handle. OK, don’t panic. Breathe.
Letting your breath out slowly, you roll your shoulders back and lift your head. “Nope, not today buddy.”
Your child starts to meltdown. People are staring. Everything in you wants to give in. To make it stop.
Breathe. “Big feelings are OK. I can help him through this,” you say to yourself.
Holding his hand, you start walking down the aisle. “I’m heading to the fruit now, can you help me pick a few good apples?”
On a good day, this may be enough. On a rough day, you may need to repeat this interaction a few more times (READ: What to do when your child will not calm down).
Moving from passive to confident may not happen automatically. It’s OK if this shift takes time. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and try again.
One more thing
Your child may not fully embrace this change. In fact, they may react by increasing their behavior when you try to set a boundary.
This doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong.
I may signify that you are getting your family back in the correct order. Putting yourself in the role of parent and removing your child from that position.
While kids appear to want to call all the shots and make all the decisions, more than anything they want to rest in the knowledge that you, their caregiver, are going to step up. Being confident. Setting boundaries with empathy, fairness, and kindness. And keeping them safe.
If you need support, I’m here for you! Learn more about online Parent Coaching.