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October 18, 2022

Awakened Parenting: How to respond rather than react when you are challenged by your child’s behaviour

Imagine the scenario of making your little ones ‘all time’ favourite sandwich only to be screamed at because they hate cheese now, when yesterday they loved it. Or hearing what a heinous crime you have committed because the sandwich is cut in squares and not diagonally, plus to top it off you’ve used the wrong plate! Many parents have no need to imagine this, it happens on a daily basis.

Do you react and yell at your child for yelling at you? Or do you respond and try and understand what is underlying their needs in this situation?  Many parents, due to their experience of being parented, will operate from a position of “do as I say not as I do”.  An attempt at a quick fix solution.

Awakened parenting, for me, is about stepping outside of our own ego (the basket full of all the conditioned learned behaviours we have as a result of life experiences) and entering the world of our children through responding and not reacting to what we perceive as the challenges they present.

Following the tips below can help both parents and children to thrive through the developmental journey in more of a conscious way:

Be a Disruption Detective

There is always something that motivates a child to behave in a certain way. What we observe is a symptom. Don’t judge. Be curious and investigate. There may be: a lack of skills to manage emotions (feelings are big sensations for little people), a need for connection without the skills to ask (negative attention is better than nothing), there may be a power play of asserting free will (essential for optimising development).  Ask the question: What could the behaviour be trying to communicate? Once you understand the unique individual language of your child, you can get ahead of the game for future outbursts.  For example, if it is about connection and you know you have something important to do that will take your attention away, then you can offer a warning that in half an hour you will be doing something, so you thought it would be nice to play a game or draw with them.  Then you can say, when you are finished your task, that you will do something else with them. Praise your child and express how you enjoyed spending time with them.  When you have to do something else offer them two choices of what they would like to do when you are busy. This encourages your child to feel emotionally validated and to feel in control through choice.

Crack Consistency

As parents we are consistently told to be consistent! It makes sense, but life happens. Plans get changed. That’s why it’s important to have routines at home. Whatever your morning routine weekdays, stick to this, as much as possible, at weekends. This avoids adaptation anxiety often expressed as anger on a Monday morning. Whatever rules you have need to be made clear,  as do the consequences of not following these. Stick to consequences given. This models boundary setting to your child and helps them to feel safe in the world.

Cool off with Compassion

You can’t control others but you can control yourself. Your child may be acting in challenging ways for you, but you can control how you respond.  There is always a reason behind a behaviour. As parents, we usually resort to being reactive when we have no other tools in our box. Yes, you can work from a fear based position and punish your child so they are afraid to behave in certain ways. This is short sighted. It does not teach your child to make their own decisions, as they develop an external locus of control awaiting instruction from others based upon consequences. Instead of bullying and shaming (the childhood experiences that lead to many adults in my treatment room) try feeling compassion about the little person before you, who is all out of tools too – just like you at the point you yell.  Labelling the emotion you see and simply showing love often cuts through confrontation.

Be a Doctor of Discipline not a Perpetrator of Punishment

Discipline is teaching and punishment is a penalty for a perceived fault. When we teach, learning is internalised. Punishment is an external risk management strategy. Teaching empowers and punishment disempowers. When we feel disempowered we are more likely to enter into a survival position of “fight or flight” and be afraid. When there is fear there is often anger as a fight response – it’s biological and evolutionary. Therefore, more acting out behaviours emerge in a never ending cycle of a battle of wills, when punishment prevails.

Parenting isn’t easy, as we are faced with a little version of ourselves ready to trigger any unresolved material from our own childhoods. So take some time to extend these strategies to your own inner child too and see how your outer parenting starts to flow around, rather than attempt to move through, the obstacles you encounter along the way.

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