One of the greatest things I am learning in my journey with my son is that I cannot control him. I can only control me…. and man, am I ever awful at controlling me.
When I’ve repeated the same instruction sometimes NINE times, the tenth time usually features me blowing my lid. Add in other factors of the unique issues we face with special needs and it becomes exhausting. But I’m realizing it doesn’t have to be. The reason it’s exhausting is because I want control, and when I don’t get it, I react from my feelings of powerlessness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an explosive control freak that will flip out when I don’t get my way. Yet as much as I may not like to admit it, when my world isn’t the serene picture I have idealized in my mind, my emotions run wild. Why? Because I’m a crazy, mad-woman? (maybe sometimes), but mostly it’s my last attempt at grasping onto some form of affirmation that despite my sinking ship, “I am still in charge here!”. Ironically, I am aware of my downhill spiral as I make one final attempt to loudly pronounce, “You’re having a bath and that’s final!!”
The only person I can control is me. This is a deep work happening inside of me presently. Love does not seek to control. In fact, if I seek to control my child, I am assisting at increasing anxiety in not only my own life, but theirs. No matter how large the issues we are dealing with regarding our children; from serious issues Oppositional Defiance or Conduct Disorder may bring, to the toddler screaming, “NO!” we have to manage our own anxiety to guard the connection our children have with us. Doing this is harder work than getting a child to comply. It’s easy to use fear of punishment or “mom losing it” to get a child to obey – but it comes with a great cost; the cost of connection. Rebellion isn’t a behavioral issue – it’s a connection issue.
The only time we have influence in our children’s lives is when connection is there.
Neurologically when we are frightened, something called the Amygdala in our brain releases adrenaline into the blood stream bringing us to a “fight or flight” stance. We then seek to guard ourselves from the perceived danger. When we are scared, all we can think of is protecting ourselves. Imagine then, a child being yelled at time and time again? Imagine what the Amygdala in overdrive is doing to the parent/child connection? Becoming aware of this has impacted me greatly.
Love is not about fear or control – it’s about freedom. Anxiety decreases when there is safety and freedom from control. My job as a parent is to create that environment for my children, even when they are not listening; even when my son is standing up yelling all sorts of profanities and cruelty.
With a rapid increase in child depression and anxiety, there is no greater time needed for us to learn to manage our emotions. If you’ve been with me in the upper octaves, you don’t need any more guilt on this. What we need is to face it with courage and take every day one step at a time and celebrate every victory and not wallow when we succumb to defeat. I had an opportunity the other day in a time of connection with my son to say this to him: “Son, no parent wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I’m going to really fail at this parent-thing today’. We are all just broken people trying to do our best”. I believe as we’re honest with our children along the way, this can build connection and trust. It can create a home that says, “It’s ok to make mistakes, we’ll work it out together” – for both the child and us.
I’m not going to lie, writing this blog took some courage because by no means do I want readers thinking I’m a yelling maniac, but I do have areas of emotion that I see can use better management. I’ve heard some great advice on HOW to do this which I am happy to share with you. I have seen significant improvement by applying these daily (sometimes by the minute)
1. Make the decision not to argue with your child. When things are heated, walk away and say “We will talk when we have all calmed down”. Instead of sending the child to their room where they would feel punished or isolated, remove yourself from the room. Communicate this clearly: “We will talk when things are calm”. I sometimes set the timer for 15 minutes to give my children a concrete way of knowing when we will resume conversation that can lead to resolution of the issue. I need this time just as much as they do. As a matter of fact, most of the time I feel the timer is for me more than them.
2. When your child is upset, empathize with their feeling instead of getting upset. Eg: “I can see you are frustrated”. This allows them to move from being uncontrollably upset, to feeling safe with you. Empathy disarms. Sometimes you may want to leave it at this. No one wants to reason or think of solutions when upset. Wait until everyone is calm to talk things through and come to compromise if needed.
3. Get onto your child’s level. Instead of raising your voice from across the room to reach them, come to them and their eye level and speak to them directly. This has helped me curb saying things 9 times. Another practice I have started is to tell my son directly in his eyes how many times I’ve asked him to do something. Eg :”This is now attempt #7″. This way he also understands what I mean when I’ve said before, “I told you SEVEN times”. The only thing with this is that I must remain calm when carrying this out. I can’t say it with any hint of frustration, but just as a matter of fact in order for the message to come across properly.
4. Pick your battles. Does it REALLY matter what hairstyle they’ve chosen or what they’re wearing (if it includes more than just underwear). Thinking before freaking out: in the light of the big things that matter, does this require going over the top? Thinking ahead, will making this a big deal break connection?
Getting a grip on what to do has been a first step, but how-to’s rarely work without digging deeper as to WHY the emotional upheavals. This has been a courageous, yet needed journey that I will write about next time. Till then, keep being brave dear friends. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.