Every generation tries to improve from the way that they were parented. Our parents did a better job than their parents did and they likely did better than previous generations parented. There’s more knowledge available to the current generation, e.g. child development, understanding of attachment, etc., that our parents didn’t necessarily have access to. It’s natural to want to keep doing better. But there are times that we find ourselves reverting to a parenting style that’s not the parents we want to be. In fact, we can fall back on our default style, often how we were parented as children.
So what do you do in those tantrum, belligerent moments when our kids really piss us off and we find ourselves yelling, threatening punishment or screaming “time out?”
We turned to Cayla Solomon, Certified Sleep and Wellbeing Specialist and Certified Parent Educator, who often deals with this very question, for her wisdom.
When we’re under stress we revert to the way we were parented, not necessarily the parents we want to be” Cayla Solomon, Certified Sleep and Wellbeing Specialist and Certified Parent Educator
What To Do (Bites)
Accept That You’re Human and Won’t Always Get it Right
No matter how determined we are to do our best as parents, everyone still has their trauma and triggers. That’s being human. It’s especially true when you’re running on empty – which can be the natural state of a time-starved working parent, especially one who has managed through a pandemic. So avoid the cycle of self-criticism and focus on a plan for what to do. (Notably: if you find yourself in a constant state of overwhelm, you may want to consider professional help.)
Recognize What Triggers You
Situations tend to repeat themselves. Find the pattern so you can anticipate it in advance and avoid it all together. What are the things that set you off? Is it whining or yelling? A child who isn’t listening? Are you more likely to be triggered when you’re already feeling stressed or rushed? When you’re tired or hungry? Our triggers often come from our own childhood experiences. Recognizing our role in the dynamic when we butt heads with our children allows us the advantage of being better able to consciously manage the response.
Come Up With a Plan Ahead of Time
The goal is to be considered and thoughtful while you’re in it. Having a plan and repeating it allows it to become your default habit, your autopilot and your natural response.
It’s important that your plan doesn’t blame the child for their behavior. Your child needs to know that they will 100% accepted no matter the emotions they’re showing. And that your child is not responsible for your emotions. Not only are young children not developmentally able to understand mixed feelings, i.e. understanding their own feelings in conjuction with someone else’s, but children should not be responsible for your own mental health. A child’s focus should be on their own growth and development, and should not bear the heavy weight of feeling responsible for another person’s limbic system.
Just as how we can’t control when our children are happy or upset – our job isn’t to be responsible for their happiness, but rather to support their emotions and make space for them.
With that, here’s a sample plan:
- In the moment say: “Mommy or Daddy needs to go take a drink of water and I’ll be right back.” This gives you the opportunity to remove yourself without assigning blame.
- Leave and take your time out. Find your way to calm down – deep breaths, screaming in the garage (where no one can hear you!) – your pause to regroup.
- Return as the parent you want to be.
When the time is right, not when they’re “in it,” you can have a conversation around the “next time.” An explanation is most appropriate for those situations where there is an expectation to be met, e.g. a child hits their sibling, and we can direct them to respond differently in the future.
When calmer heads prevail, you might say to them, “I could tell you were really upset with your brother, but I can’t let you use your body to hurt another person. Next time you feel like you need to hit, let’s hit a pillow instead.” That’s a behaviour that can be redirected as a result of an explosive emotion. We don’t want to discourage the emotion itself (e.g. the tantrum) but rather direct the child to a better way to express the emotion.
Consider a “safe word” with your partner or other caregiver when you need someone else to step in so you can regroup. For example, one couple’s word, play doh, is uttered when they need to trade-off with their partner in order to get their emotions under control. (BTW, we love “play doh” – picked because it’s the maddening experience for some of us when kids mix the play doh colours together!)
Here’s great advice when you do lose it.
My Choices. My Wisdom.
What does your work do for you that you’d miss if you didn’t have it?
I have an incredible opportunity to get to know families and cultures all around the world. The challenges that parents face are so universal, and I would really miss the introspection it gives me, that I’m able to use in parenting my own children.
What’s the biggest piece of advice or wisdom for working moms?
There can be a lot of “mom judging.” You don’t owe anyone anything when it comes to your children. Whether it is a trusted relative or a good friend, I’m not afraid to tell anyone to eff off when it comes to my kids’ needs. Children don’t need to appease adults if it makes them uncomfortable, and I will always stand up for my kids, even if it means pissing off another adult. The best advice I can give to working moms is knowing that you can’t be all things to all people, and it’s okay to pick and choose what things are your priorities in any given moment. The goal isn’t to be a perfect parent, it’s to parent intentionally the majority of the time.
What do you hope your kids will say about you (when they’re older)
I hope that I’ll have been a good enough parent that they will still choose me, even when they don’t have to. (There is a personal trigger here, as I have chosen not to have a relationship with my own father.) My goal is for my kids to feel supported as who they are as their true selves, so that they always feel comfortable coming to me (and my husband), without fear of any judgement.