What’s Your Problem?

Marissa enjoys pretending to be a puppy. She gets down on all fours, sticks out her tongue, pants, and barks. She never tires of it. She does it at home, at school, and in public. Other kids think it’s funny. Adults think it’s cute. I think it’s annoying as hell.




I actually have a physical reaction whenever she does this. I tense up, my heart rate increases, and I feel anxious. Please, animal lovers, don’t judge me — I’m just not an animal person. I wasn’t brought up with any pets, and ever since I was little and got knocked down by a large dog, I’ve been afraid of all animals, both big and small.


Also, animals gross me out. (Aside here: yesterday I watched an otter cross the street in front of my car on its way home to the Everglades. Just thinking about it now makes me shudder. If you can think of a clever punch line to “Why did the otter cross the road?” please leave it in the comments below.)


So for a long time, I told Marissa to stop acting like a puppy because it bothered me. Any time she started hanging out her tongue I would let out a deep sigh, roll my eyes, and ask her to go into a different room. I’d raise my voice if she didn’t comply.


Marissa was not deterred. In fact, she may have done it more because she got attention (albeit negative attention) for it. And then I realized something important:


This was my problem, not hers.


Unconsciously, I thought I could make it her problem by getting upset and banishing her from the room. Maybe then she would want to stop. But that didn’t work; I still had the problem.


In any situation, the person who is most bothered or inconvenienced “owns” the problem.


When you feel irritated that your child leaves his clothes on the floor instead of putting them in the hamper, that’s your problem, not his.


When you feel embarrassed that your child acts up in a restaurant, that’s your problem, not hers.


Often, we try to force our kids to change whatever they’re doing that makes us upset. But if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that the only person you can control is yourself.


Therefore, rather than trying to change our kids and make them responsible for our problems, we need to take responsibility.  When you shift from blaming your kids to taking control of your own thoughts and actions, you can stop feeling so frustrated and powerless.


There are several ways to make this shift. Here are three:

1) Adjust your expectations

2) Set logical consequences

3) Diffuse your triggers


I’ve gone into great detail about all of these in previous posts (links above), but for the sake of today’s post, I’ll use my example with Marissa to illustrate each point.


Adjust my expectations – When I stopped expecting Marissa to quit doing what she enjoyed just because I said so…when I stopped expecting her to act “mature” and realized she was just doing what kids do…I could let go of some of my frustration.


Set logical consequences – Instead of insisting that Marissa leave the room, I told her that whenever she pretended to be a puppy, I would go into a different room. I took responsibility for my problem, while giving her the choice about whether to continue her behavior.


Diffuse my triggers – What’s really going on that makes her behavior so intolerable to me? Is it because I dislike animals? Is it that I’m embarrassed? If so, why? How would my parents have responded to me doing this as a child, and is that why I’m reacting?


I’m still trying to figure it all out for myself, but I know that taking responsibility for my problem is the first step to resolving it.


So – and I mean this in the nicest way possible — what’s your problem?


What does your child do that bothers or inconveniences you and how can you take responsibility for your problem? Leave a comment below and let us know.


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Showing 8 comments
  • Ellen

    Hi Pam! I know this an an old post, but I just came across it. It resonated with me, as there is definitely something both my husband and I get annoyed about that our son does, actually few noises he makes. I get the concept you’re suggesting. My question is what can we do about the fact that others get annoyed by it and it can be disruptive in a classroom and annoy others, which can affect him in a social setting. We’ve tried encouraging him to look at people’s faces to notice how they are feeling and guage if they are happy to be around him or frustrated or annoyed with what he’s doing. Any other suggestions?

    • Pam Howard

      Hi Ellen! Honestly, you can’t do anything about what other people think and feel. Helping your son interpret other people’s body language and facial expressions can be useful, but most likely he’s going to have to learn the consequences of his actions naturally.

      I know you asked about how to deal with other people, but I want you to look at your own thoughts about the situation. You think your son shouldn’t be making noises, when he should be making noises. How do we know? Because he is. Nothing’s gone wrong in this situation.

      His noises aren’t annoying you – they’re a neutral circumstance in your life. We know they’re neutral because not everyone will be annoyed by them. It’s your thoughts about his noises that cause you to feel annoyed. The interesting thing is, once we have the first thought that something is annoying, our brains begin to look for evidence that it is — focusing our attention on it even more. But you can actually train your brain to believe the noises are not annoying. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so while you’re on the lookout for evidence of how the noises are annoying (e.g., your husband agrees, the kids at school agree), you’re missing so many of the un-annoying things he’s doing. Train your brain to notice those other things. Consciously decide that you’ll only notice things you love about him and focus on the aspects of him that make you feel delighted. Your brain will definitely notice the noises in the beginning. Remind yourself that you’re focusing on what’s amazing about him right now, and then find it. The same way you created the neural pathway that keeps looking for evidence of his annoying noises, you can create a different one. It takes practice and commitment, but you can do it. And then, the likelihood that he’ll stop making the noises is higher because he won’t be getting reinforcement from your reactions…and what other people think and feel about him won’t concern you anymore, either. xoxo!

  • Sydney Siegel

    Love this! Such good food for thought!

  • Suzie

    Great post. Having four kids there’s plenty of opportunity for me to practice this! Love the idea of turning it around, taking responsibility and working out what my problem is. Food for thought – I’m going to give it a try starting today!

    • Pam Howard

      Awesome, Suzie! Let me know how it goes.

  • Gayla

    to get to the “otter” side!

    • Pam Howard

      OMG — so obvious! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.

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