Many of us (women :)) dreamed of being a mommy one day. We spent hours as a child taking care of our dolls, bathing them, dressing them and telling them everything would be ok. We watched and copied everything our mommies did or what we hoped they would do to take care of us.
Or maybe being a mom wasn’t something that came naturally to you. Maybe you had a challenging childhood and questioned what kind of parent you would be.
Regardless, parenthood isn’t easy and to our dismay, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. So what’s a parent to do? How do we best navigate the often troubling and exhausting waters to reach the shores of balance and harmony within our families and ourselves?
As a psychotherapist and parent coach, I have spent years researching these very questions. I have found that there are no easy answers, but there are answers. The key to parental enjoyment begins with us and our willingness to look within. It begins with our willingness to pause before reacting (to our children, spouse, co-worker) and notice what is happening within our bodies and minds. In this space of pausing, we have choices and more importantly, opportunities. Namely, the opportunity to teach and guide, rather than punish and hurt.
More often than not, we react to our children (and ourselves) in a negative fashion. We are in a constant hurry, thus becoming impatient and easily annoyed. When in this state, how often have you said to yourself, “I sound just like my mother/father!”?
On the other hand, when we allow ourselves time to reflect and become aware of these patterns, a beautiful thing happens. We become present and focused.
Recall the child who lovingly took care of her doll…was she in any hurry?
To fully enjoy parenting, it’s useful to give yourself and your child the most important present of all – your PRESENCE. What does this mean and what does it look like?
To be fully present means setting aside the million things on your “to do” list to tune into your child and all that he/she is experiencing in that very moment.
Being present is more than simply listening with our ears, it’s listening with our hearts. It means appreciating the being in front of you with all his hopes, dreams and fears and ideally, without judgment.
As a first step in this process, it is crucial to accept your own imperfections and treat yourself with the loving kindness you give or hope to give to your child. Your child doesn’t want you to be perfect. Rather, she wants you to accept yourself so that you can then accept her and all of her imperfections. When we accept ourselves and are willing to make mistakes, we teach our children that mistakes are how we learn, grow and evolve. Our children are little sponges picking up on every detail of our communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Think about what message you want to send your child about self-esteem and self-acceptance. Model the very behavior you hope to instill in your child. Become aware of your own negative self-talk and the toll it takes on your mind and body. Think about what you would say to a friend…if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, I would suggest you stop saying it to yourself.
When children misbehave, as they all do, they are doing so as a result of big, difficult to understand emotions and to get their needs met. Every human has basic needs, physical and emotional. These include the need to feel respected, loved, valued, understood, a sense of belonging and a sense of security.
All misbehavior is a communication and a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. When a child acts out, he’s telling us he needs our help.
If parenting has become taxing for you because you have a misbehaving or challenging child, you are not alone and there are steps you can take to restore your equilibrium and relationship with your child. Here are just a few examples:
- Remember to pause before parenting. Take a break, walk away, BREATHE and center yourself before reacting to your child. Think about the needs of your child and what need she is trying to have met. Be curious and ask questions, rather than lecture. You’ll be surprised at the answers.
- Act as an “emotion coach.” Use empathy to help your child understand what he is feeling. This meets your child’s need to feel understood and valued. When you address the underlying reasons for the behavior, rather than the behavior itself, you’ll see a change in your child. For example, with back talk, “You must feel really angry to be speaking to me that way. What’s going on? Let’s talk about it.” Later, when you’re both calm, review with your child how he can better handle the situation next time.
- Ask for the behavior you want. Children receive thousands of negative commands every day. “Don’t jump on the bed.” “No hitting.” “Don’t do that.” It helps to give a child directions they can successfully follow. A child feels loved and capable when she can do what you’re asking her to do. Tell the child the behavior you want to see vs. the behavior you want them to stop. For example, “The couch is for sitting.” “Keep your feet on the floor/hands to yourself “ etc.
- Offer appropriate choices. Children have a need to feel powerful and in control. By offering choices, you meet that need and reduce the possibility of a power struggle. For example, “Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?”; “Would you like to hop to the car or skip?”
- Create “special time.” When your child is misbehaving, he’s sending the message that he feels disconnected from you. Carving out time in your day where your child can have 100% of your attention and he directs the play or how you spend the time can work wonders for your relationship. When your child acts out, it’s as though he’s saying, “my tank is empty.” Quality, uninterrupted time with your child (even 15 minutes a day) helps to refuel your child and your connection.
- Teach your child to breathe and ask for what he/she wants. For young children, you can ask them hold up both hands. Have them pretend there is a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Show them how to “smell the flower and blow out the candle.” Helping a child to manage her emotions by first learning how to calm down is an invaluable life skill. Once a child is calm, she can then ask for what she wants and/or needs. You can also teach your child to ask for attention versus acting out for attention. Offer hugs and teach your child she can ask for a hug whenever she needs one.
To enjoy parenting is to enjoy our imperfect selves in order accept the imperfections in our children. When we take the time to slow down, breathe and be fully present within ourselves and with our children, we allow for connection – a vital human need.