We are currently visiting Australia, our home. Now we live in the US, the flight home is huge - Houston, San Fransisco, Sydney - 24 hours door-to-door. As you can probably imagine, we were exhausted by the time we reached our accommodation in Sydney.
On top of this, it seemed that Mya in particular was going through some kind of developmental leap (well, I’m going to tell myself that anyway J). She was cantankerous, defiant, wouldn’t listen and would become really upset at the drop of a hat. Feeling pretty worn down after the travel, my bad parenting habits reared their ugly head. I was yelling at the kids a lot more, threatening punishments and putting up an emotional brick wall. I was more absorbed by my own feelings of tiredness and discomfort rather than focused on reconnecting with my kids and making allowances for their exhaustion and the change of environment.
Clearly things did not change and, if anything, the not-so-great behavior escalated when I parented by default. As I scrolled through Facebook, attempting to take a mental break from my escalating anger and frustration, I rediscovered a great article by Dr. Laura Markham at Aha! Parenting. The article, "How Can You Enforce Limits If You Don't Use Force?", outlines 6 strategies to try when your children react to the limits that you set.
I get asked this a lot – “what do I do when my child won’t listen to me.” Dr. Markham’s strategies are a great place to start and I was so happy to be reminded of them when I needed them most.
1. Stay calm. You’ve probably noticed how your child will react and mirror your emotional status. If you’ve lost your mind, there’s a fair chance that your child will also.
2. Acknowledge your child's perspective -- sincerely and with empathy. You don’t have to agree with how they are feeling but you can state what you see and be sincere about it. This helps them feel validated and heard.
3. Restate your limit. Rather than getting caught up in the “battle,” calmly and simply restate your limit, rephrasing it if necessary so that your child clearly hears you (there’s no point talking if your child is screaming).
4. Give them what they want in their mind using wish fulfillment. This is a really interesting strategy. Basically, you can make up a story that is appealing to your child. Something that they imagine they would like instead of what you are asking them to do. This engages their rational brain in thinking about what they actually want and “tricks” the brain into thinking it is satisfied therefore helping your child feel better. You’re also showing your child that you care about their happiness even when you can’t give them what they want.
For example, for a child who does not like brushing their teeth:
"I bet when you're grown up you'll decide NEVER to brush your teeth! Or maybe you'll have toothpaste that tastes like something super delicious and you'll LOVE brushing!"
Engaging their higher level brain in imagining can help children escape the “fight or flight” response that comes when their lower brain is in control.
5. Invite cooperation through play. Sometimes this can seem like the hardest thing in the world to do when we as parents are frustrated but if you can switch gears and be a bit more creative, this strategy can quickly turn things around. Make a game of whatever it is you are asking.
6. Find a win/win solution. Again, this strategy requires you as a parent to be in control of your reactions. A little bit of thinking outside the box can diffuse a conflict.You’ll find some great examples of these strategies in the original article.
My husband is so good at using play to get the kids on board – it really amazes me. He doesn’t seem as attached to “winning” as I do (I wonder if this comes more easily for men in general). It comes very naturally for him where I really have to be mindful and work at it. But the more I practice strategies like these, the easier they become and I feel like I have some tools to try in those challenging situations.
I know for me, the key to being a more creative, mindful, empathetic parent is self-care. Sleep is a priority and on this vacation, I have napped almost everyday when the girls go down for a sleep during the day. This has helped me recharge my batteries and be ready to face a full afternoon of activities again. I also managed to sneak in a couple of restorative yoga sessions. 2 hours of pure self-care – amazing!