I was shopping at Whole Foods yesterday and overheard a mom angrily telling her 2 ½ yr. old, “Don’t you e-v-e-r speak to your Grandmother that way!”
On the surface there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s more to the picture.
The holidays are always filled with expectations, hopes and dreams, big ones and little ones. We expect and hope our kids will behave, won’t be wild, won’t say anything disrespectful, or cause a scene. That expectation belongs to us, the parents, it’s engrained in us.
As kids we were repeatedly told how to talk to, and act, around our elders. The problem is, we were taught these things with parental anger, yelling, and punishing and no more information was given on the subject. Once those reactions were delivered we’d feel ashamed, embarrassed, unheard, mad, rejected, and so on.
Now as parents, when we find ourselves in similar situations with our own kids, the rush of emotion we feel when (s)he misbehaves isn’t totally the result of what our child has done. The emotions are coming from the deep recesses of our subconscious, similar to air bubbles surfacing from the deep. The emotions are often hidden from our conscious mind; they are the emotions we felt as a child when were admonished for similar behavior.
So what, you say?
Well, think about your child. Do you want your child to feel ashamed, embarrassed, unheard, mad, rejected, or do you want your child to truly learn not to behave that way again?
If you want your child to truly learn, then you need to put your wound away, for the moment, and address what’s happening now. What’s happening now is your child is learning and doesn’t know what to say or do instead.
Let’s use the mom at Whole Foods. Oh, by the way, I do not eavesdrop on parents in public. I absolutely walk away to give parents privacy from prying eyes. However, if something happens right in front of me, and I’m inspired to write something as a result, I consider that experience my muse. Just saying.
Back to Mom
The Whole Foods mom felt compelled to do something about the fact that Jr. spoke to Grandma in a certain way.
Grandma absolutely had a look on her face that demanded that mom do something.
Mom reacted because she thought she should. Her actions were in part due to the
pressure she felt from Grandma, real or implied.
Most likely, mom unconsciously, and intensely reacted because of how her mother
reacted to her when she was a child. In essence, Mom reacted that way because she
was consumed with “The Ghosts from the Cradle” a statement popularized by T. Berry
It was obvious that Jr. was surprised and confused by mom’s reaction. Mom didn’t explain, she just demanded that Jr. never do that again! You could tell he had no idea what he should never do again. You could almost hear him thinking, “But mom you know this is how I talk when I’m upset, or don’t get my needs met, or feel like someone is pushing me past what I’m capable of.”
So what could Mom have done instead?
Mom could have ignored the implied expectation to react and punish, yet correct her son at the same time.
Mom could have said, “Uh, oh, sweetie, that’s not how we talk to Grandma, please try again and tell her what you want using kind words.”
And because Jr. is only 2 ½ yrs. old it’s important to give him more information as the event is unfolding so he can relate to it. Unless of course talking to him at times like that makes things worse.
You could say, “Do you need some ideas of how to talk nice to Grandma?”
What if Jr. doesn’t comply?
Mom can tell Grandma she’ll be right back, silently pick Jr. up, and go stand just outside the store. Do not go home, or to the car, that defeats the purpose of this tip. Mom can wait for 10 seconds or so, then say, “Are you ready to try again and use nice words with Grandma?”
What if Jr. still refuses to comply?
The answer is simple, rinse and repeat. In other words, simple stand there and ask every so often if he is ready to try again? That’s why this works well with any age child, no power struggles, just repeating a question.
Responding works for several reasons.
Your clear authority comes shining through without the need to yell.
Since you’re standing just outside the door of the store you’re sending the message that nothing will happen until (s)he does as you ask.
You are calm enough not be overly affected by the big emotions of your child.
You’re able to ask every so often, “Are you ready to try again and use nice words with Grandma?”
Those actions help a child learn how to go from out of control to self-control, a valuable life skill.
Your actions show Grandma that you are indeed correcting behavior but choosing to do it without reacting, yelling or punishing.
Best of all, all of choosing to respond instead of react stops the emotional wounds you experienced as a child from being passed on to another generation.
That’s just one simple, but powerful example of the types of concepts, methods, and tips offered at Proactive Parenting. From Stop Reacting and Start Responding, my book, to the toddler-preschool seminar When Development is Dressed as Misbehavior, to the Authentic Parent Series for kids ages 5-18, my goal is to help you locate the wound embedded in your reactions so you can replace them with calm teaching responses. There’s no need to pass pain from one generation to another, not any more!
Hope you had a wonderful holiday season.
Here’s to a MUCH better 2017!