What parent doesn’t know how it feels to lose control with our kids? When a child flings him/herself down on the floor in the middle of the grocery store, hits or bites a sibling or school mate, makes poor choices about their friends, schoolwork or health, talks back or rolls their eyes at anything we say, it can feel almost impossible to control our reactions.
Who ever told us we had control over our kids in the first place?
Think about it. When we’re coming from our egos, we have a personal stake in our kids’ behavior and how it reflects ON US. But the reality is that they are their own people — with their own ideas, their own independent needs — and the only people who can control them is themselves.
When we look at basic brain science of the limbic system where emotions are centered and the prefrontal cortex where reasoning and logic are centered, we start to understand why our kids’ behaviors can get so big. And how little they have to do with us.
What neuroscience teaches us is that a much more effective and relationship-building way to respond to our kids in their most challenging moments of big behaviors is to CONNECT with them rather than to try to control them or their behavior.
So instead of thinking during a huge tantrum, “How can I get this to stop? What can I say? How I can dole out consequences to get him to stop?”, we can turn it around. Connection helps us change direction by encouraging us to ask, “How can I connect with her right now? How will her emotional needs be met if I get down, make eye contact, use a soft tone of voice and physical touch to let her know I’m here?”
Only then can we start to shift the way it feels in our bodies to connect rather than control. We can breathe, feel less tightness and less anger in ourselves as we connect compassionately and without expectation with our child.
Why is this hard to do for most of us? Simply, we weren’t parented this way. Many of us were parented in ways that often included yelling, punishing and shaming. Those old experiences from our past get triggered during a heated moment with our kids. The first step is to be aware of that happening. The second step is to have someone to talk to about it and to release those old hurts. The third step is to learn and practice new skills to connect. And voila! We’ve used connection to change direction! It benefits us as well as our kids.
This basic principle of relationship building with our kids actually applies to all relationships. Whenever someone is “acting up,” big feelings are at the root. Our spouse, a child in our classroom, a friend or a family member. Try connecting rather than controlling in response and see what happens. Asking someone how they feel or what they need can go a long way to understanding what’s actually happening, and can help us respond effectively to behaviors that challenge us to let go of control.
Adapted from The Connected Family.
Kiran Gaind owns The Connected Family, a boutique coaching practice for modern parents based in Palo Alto. She works with parents who are overwhelmed by their responsibilities and exhausted by the demands of parenting to feel overjoyed by their lives and being parents again.