Q: I walked into my homeschooling son’s bedroom last night while he was saying his prayers. “Could you help my Mom and Dad not be so angry and yell all the time?” It broke my heart. My husband comes home from work and yells, but I’m no better. I’m constantly on the kids like my Mom did to us. I’m afraid of what it’s doing to our kids. I know I need to change myself first, but how do I become calm when the kids are so intense?” – Sarah
A: You are not alone, Sarah.
Most of us inherited patterns of behavior that, left unchecked, will cause destruction over time. I repeated the patterns learned from my father and came very close to destroying my relationships with the people I loved most. In working with thousands of sensitive kids, what we heard most was, “I wish my parents didn’t yell so much.” More than anything, teens crave no drama at home.
Realize that we cannot control our kids, nor should we want to. Our primary job as parents is to control ourselves, model proper behavior and teach our kids how to control their own behavior. How many of us throw adult tantrums when something goes wrong, then expect our homeschooling children to remain calm?
- Give your intense, emotional involvement to connect.No matter what your child or spouse does, we must connect. Screaming or withdrawing emotionally only makes the situation worse. When we are calm, we can be fully engaged and put our intensity into solving problems instead of creating more of them. When do we give kids our undivided, intense emotional involvement? Usually when we’re upset at them. Let’s reverse this so they seek our praise.
- Assume a calm posture. Each time you approach your child or spouse, ask yourself, “Do I want to have a conversation or a confrontation?” Instead of standing and barking orders, sit down. Kids are drawn to adults who sit. Sitting says, “I am in control. I cannot be manipulated. I’m not going to yell, lecture or overreact. I want to connect with you.”
- Take care of yourself. Exercise, walk your dog, pray, listen to music–do whatever helps you feel at peace. The quickest way to get respect is to demonstrate self-respect. If you do not take care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually, no one else will care about you…you will become exhausted and needy…it will be easy for kids to push your buttons.
- Be the calm in the storm. The most effective way to calm an emotional child is for us to be calm. Instead of threatening an upset child (which makes them more upset!), we need to draw the child into our calm place. Sit down and color or build with LEGOs. Play catch or do push-ups with your child. Invite him into your calm. This will freak him out at first, because he is used to seeing you get upset. What you are communicating, though, is (1) Your actions cannot control or manipulate me and (2) No matter how out of control you may feel, I am a rock you can count on. I am a safe place.
- Change patterns of behavior. What are your triggers? Write them down. Then develop a specific action to counter each trigger. I cannot control what other people do, but I can always control my own behavior. When I am running late, I will slow down and allow a stranger to cut in front of me. When kids are getting upset, I will become more calm and draw them to me. When my spouse or kids are demanding or disrespectful, I will firmly reply, “I respect myself too much to listen to you speak that way, but if you want to come talk to me like an adult, I’d love to listen while we walk/cook dinner/fold laundry/have a snack.” That worked for me and my homeschooling