Oh, The Pause-abilities!
Last week, I told you about Mara’s mom and how I suggested she use empathy to connect with her daughter after a meltdown. Well, the next time I saw her, she said, “You know, I was thinking about what you said and you were right. Mara’s only 4-years-old! She was hungry and tired. I can see that now, but in the moment I was so frustrated!”
Naturally, Mara’s mom was frustrated. I would be, too. After being apart from my daughters all day, I want to be greeted with an excited, “Mommy!” not, “Where’s my snack?” When I say that I forgot to bring a snack, I want my child to say, “It’s ok, Mom. I’ll have one at home,” not throw a tantrum in the school hallway and scratch my arms!
The reason I was able to think clearly and rationally when Mara’s mom asked for my advice was that my thinking wasn’t clouded by negative, overwhelming emotions. Whenever I let these emotions control my behavior as a parent, I tend to “lose it.”
In ScreamFree Parenting, author Hal Runkel says that whenever we “lose it” (and we all do), we don’t just make the situation worse; we actually help bring about the very outcome we're trying to avoid.
For example, a mother tells her teenaged son, “You can talk to me about anything. Always come to me with your problems.” Then, when he decides to tell her that he cheated on an exam, she flips out and starts yelling and lecturing him.
What has she just done? She’s helped create the very outcome she was hoping to avoid, because her son now realizes he really can’t talk to his mom “about anything.” He probably won’t go to her with his problems in the future, and he certainly didn't come away from the interaction “enlightened” in any way.
Why did he go to her in the first place? To brag? To get reprimanded? Of course not. He was worried. He made a mistake and perhaps felt ashamed and regretful. It took a lot of courage for him to confess to his mother, and she missed the opportunity to connect with him and support him through his difficult admission.
Enter: the PAUSE.
In order to CALM down, we need to create a PAUSE between our child’s ACTION and our REACTION. During that PAUSE, we can actually choose how we want to respond, rather than just saying the first thing that comes into our heads. During the PAUSE, we can stop and think: How do I want to behave in this moment? Notice, I didn’t say: How do I want my child to behave in this moment?
Our knee-jerk reactions are automatic and habitual. They help create patterns of behavior between us and our kids. That’s why parents often get “stuck” in patterns with their children that bring about the same outcomes over and over. By pausing, we can start to change these patterns and create new ones.
A pause may be brief: you can close your eyes or take a deep breath. It may be longer: you can call a friend or retreat to your bedroom for a few minutes. Whatever it takes, just do it. When you feel your temperature rising, hit the pause button. You can even say something like, “Mommy needs a time out right now.”
As Hal Runkel points out, when we get reactive, we regress. In other words, when we feel stressed, we may plead, yell, and otherwise behave childishly in an attempt to get our kids to do what we want them to do. Pausing enables us to be the mature adults our kids need us to be.
Try not to get discouraged if your child doesn’t respond to your calmness right away. He has gotten used to your patterns…though they're challenging, they're predictable and therefore somewhat comfortable for both of you. The more often you practice pausing and calming down, the easier it will become for you, and your child will learn to adapt to the new pattern you establish.
So, how do you think the mother in the above example could have responded to her son differently? If you could put yourself in the son's shoes, what would you want your mother to say or do? Leave a comment below and tell us! There are no right or wrong answers.
Are you struggling to stay calm? Schedule a FREE 20-minute mini-session with me over the phone and let me help you get relief. Set it up here.