All of we parents say and do things with our kids that we regret. These are not knowledge deficits (i.e., we know we’ve erred) but are performance deficits, the causes of which are as varied as the number of stars in the sky. (Most of the time these lapses would not cause the staff at a state’s welfare department to become alarmed, and this entry is not meant to address such instances.) These are moments when our personal reservoir of resources has been depleted by stress and we snap, issuing forth with harsh invectives. This post is meant to give you some strategies to try once you’re back on your game and parenting with intention.
#1: Be kind with yourself in how you think about your lapse. Such moments are as universal to family life as dust mites. Sure, it’d be nice to be rid of them, and we strive for that as best as we can but, at the end of the day, we’re only human. Moreover, research suggests that our kids, assuming our family life is generally healthy, make less of these skirmishes than we do.
#2: Do a psychological autopsy with your child after you both have calmed down. In other words, have a calm discussion about what happened. During this conversation own your lapse without qualification. “John, it was wrong of me to call you lazy and slow witted. Neither of those things are true. I was having a bad day and over reacted to your complaints about doing your homework. That was wrong of me and I apologize son.” Let your kid respond and reinforce that with which you agree. Then, if your child misbehaved in some fashion, try to raise his or her awareness. This is done independent of the apology. That is, I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to place responsibility for my behavior onto my child. “John, thinking more about this, is there anyway you can think of that you could have acted better?” If your child comes up with a reasonable answer you can salute his or her growing maturity. If not, you can suggest what you have in mind. “Well, I think it would have been better for you to do your homework, without complaint, after being warned that I had had enough complaining for one day.”
#3: Consider what you can do to keep yourself from turning this type of intermittent lapse into a regular pattern. Some useful questions to consider: is your self-care sound (e.g., getting sufficient doses of sleep, healthy foods, physical activity, fun, interpersonal connections, and calm)? Is there a pressing stress on you that may need more focused attention? Could you use more help or support and, if yes, how might you get it?
#4: Assuming your child’s behavior prior to your lapse was problematic, consider what you can do to keep such from becoming a dysfunctional pattern. Some questions to consider: could the behavior your child is demonstrating be signally the presence of an underlying problem that needs attention? Are your child’s health habits in need of adjustment? (As much as we adults can be adversely affected by poor health habits, this is even more the case with our kids.) Does your child have any insights into what might be driving the behavior?
#5: Spend one hour a week one-on-one with your child doing nothing but paying attention to him or her and offering positive thoughts and feelings. (Please note that this is different from quality time–a valuable activity to be sure– but which usually involves my dividing my attention with the thing we are doing together.). This dosage of weekly attention is to a child psychologist what an apple a day is to a pediatrician.
#6: If the trigger for your lapse is your child resisting doing a chore or some other obligation, consider setting up a behavioral contract to make it in your child’s best interest, as he or she looks at things, to comply. This switch can turn you from acting like a harsh warden to a benevolent bystander. Click here to read a blog post that covers this method a bit more. Click here to learn more about my book, which covers all the issues in this post in depth.
In closing remember that there is a small army of highly trained mental health professionals available that is willing and able to be of help. To access one data base of such mean-lean-healing machines, click here.