By: Cristina Trette
Our thoughts are immensely powerful. I watched a video that describes work being done at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Johnny Matheny has a prosthetic arm and is able to control it through his thoughts. Think about this for a minute. Instead of moving his arm, he simply commands his arm to move with his thoughts. To watch the video, click here. This is just one example of how our thoughts can shape reality. For parents, this is good news. Your thoughts can influence the way you parent and how your children behave. If this is interesting to you, keep reading.
1. Stressful situations trigger negative thoughts
If you are like most parents, you will go through rough times with your kids. Kids have tantrums, become defiance, or fight with siblings. Let's suppose you are in the store and your five year old has a tantrum when you tell him that you will not buy him a treat at the check out line. After you pay he refuses to follow you out of the store. He proceeds to lay down on the floor and scream. In this situation the parent may think thoughts such as:
I cannot let him get away with this, he is a spoiled brat, how dare he do this, he is manipulating me, this behavior is intolerable, he has gone too far this time.
All parents think thoughts like this from time to time. Considering the child is having a tantrum in a public setting, which is stressful and embarrassing, it is normal to have thoughts like this. Yet, staying with these kind of negative thoughts will not bring you closer to your child nor will it enable you to elicit cooperation. So take some time to ponder what kind of automatic thoughts come up for you in the heat of the moment.
2. Thoughts lead to feelings
Thoughts such as he is manipulating me and I cannot let him get away with this are likely to create a feeling of anger. It is very difficult to do anything well when feeling angry. Our bodies are designed to move into fight, flight, or freeze when angry. Therefore, It will be important to recognize your feelings and feel them. Acknowledge your anger, breath, take care of yourself, and allow the feelings to move through you. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. The tricky thing is that we tend to act out harshly when we are angry. So the key is to learn how to manage yourself and your anger.
3. Feelings lead to our actions
Lets suppose you end up taking action while you are feeling angry. When angry, you are likely to parent in a way that is forceful or punitive. When you are content, you are likely to parent in a way that is respectful, kind, and honoring of your child's dignity. Therefore, an important part of effective parenting will be to not take action with your child until you are back into a balanced state. Of course, there will be times that you cannot do this due to safety reasons or just because we are all human and react impulsively from time to time. For now, just notice how your actions are affected by your feelings.
4. To shift this, begin by catching your thoughts
Now that you have taken some time to notice the thoughts that trigger a downward negative cycle, be mindful to catch yourself the next time you get stuck in negative thinking. Sometimes you will catch it and sometimes you won't. Be patient with yourself!
5. Next, check your thoughts
After catching negative thoughts, spend a few moments to check them. Is your child really a spoiled brat? Or is she just having a really tough time right now. Gather up some evidence on both sides. Maybe 9 times out of 10 when he asks you for a treat, he accepts your "no" with grace. Most kids are well behaved kids. My assumption is that if you take the time to check your thoughts, you will conclude that your child is actually a pretty great kid most of the time but has bad days and moments like we all do.
6. Lastly, change your thoughts
Once you become well versed at noticing and choosing thoughts, you can pause and change your thoughts. To do this, you simply replace the negative thought with a thought that feels better.
He is manipulating me and I cannot let him get away with this is replaced with thoughts such as:
My child is really struggling right now. My child would act better if he could. She does not have the skills, brain development, or maturity to cope with her disappointment in this moment. I am the adult here, I do not like this, but I can handle it. I need to teach her how to handle her feelings in a way that is socially appropriate. I will take a moment to care for myself before interacting with her. Then I will take care of her and help her through this. So on and so forth.
Keep choosing thoughts that feel better to you. This will enable you to approach your child with love, acceptance, and grace while being an authority and guide.