Should parents show their emotions, or suppress them in favor of good parenting?
There is a lot of literature out there today that seems to lean towards parents needing to override their own emotions and “not get angry when dealing with our kids” in order to parent effectively. Is this really the best advice? Is that even realistic? What is that actually teaching our children?
The other day, I was sitting with a little girl who looked over at her mother with disdain, and said, “You are so annoying to me. I just can’t stand you sometimes.” Mom, of course hurt, embarrassed and feeling utterly disrespected, became enraged and spewed out, “You will not speak to me that way. You have absolutely no respect for people.” The little girl described her negative perception of her mom and mom retaliated with her own negative perception of her daughter. Both describing each other instead of their own feelings. The little girl sat smirking as if even more validated in her position about her mom, and mom sat steaming. Immediate detachment without a road for repair and all having taken place in 30 seconds.
The first step I ask parents to think about when parenting issues come up is, “What do you feel? What do you want to teach here? What do you want your child to actually learn from this?” Knowing what you are bothered by, and what you feel in those moments, can often point you in the right direction to a teachable moment. Our own emotions can be a life giving tool to our children when used with good intention. I don’t think it is realistic or healthy to override our own feelings as parents. We do however, need to use them with a mission to teach rather than to preach. When our children feel the natural consequences that their words and behaviors have on others’, without our adding fuel to the fire, they are learning a powerful life lesson.
So, how did I intervene? The first thought I had when this happened was, “Wow, that must of hurt to hear.” I went immediately to my own emotions. “Did that hurt your feelings?” I asked the mother. “Of course it did,” she said, as tears welled up in her eyes. “Tell her that,” I said. Let her know what you felt when she chose to speak to you that way. So, she turned to her daughter and said, “Your words just now…they hurt me.” The daughter sat quiet, but you could see the tears welling up in her own eyes. “What do you feel in hearing that?” I asked. “Bad about myself,” she said. “Was that your intention?” I asked the little girl. “Do you want to hurt your mom?” “No,” she said, “I just don’t like when she asks me to do chores right when I get home after school.” “Wow,” I said, “What would happen if you just shared that with her?” She looked at her mom and said, “When I first get home from school, I need time to decompress before you start asking me to do chores. I am tired and overwhelmed by all the work I have that I can’t even keep up with.” Mom, in hearing that, was of course absolutely able to relate and said, “All you had to do was tell me that. I get that. I just need your chores done, I don’t care when you do them.”
A simple fix for what could have been a lasting moment of detachment. Its moments like these that can so easily end poorly if we aren’t careful. Next time your children talk back to you, do plug into your own emotions as a parent. Let them point you in the right direction of what you actually want to teach your child. Share with them your intention. Ask your children to describe their own feelings rather than describing you, so that real problem solving can occur. Our feelings as parents, can and will encourage limits within our children when used with purpose, intention and value.
“Bring up a child by teaching him the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn away from it.” Proverbs 22:6