As your kids get older and more independent, sometimes behaviors emerge that are so disruptive you need to take action. As the loving, proactive parent that you are, you dissect these behaviors, seek out advice, and make your plans for how to fix them. Then, the next time the behavior happens, you calmly give your speech, deliver your hugs, and everyone agrees to try harder next time.
But despite the best laid plans, here you are again – same place, same cause, same reaction. You raise your voice and hate yourself for it. Your kid is in tears. And now you are at a complete loss because there is really nothing more to say that hasn’t already been said. Everyone knows they need to do better, but for now, you just need to get past the moment and move on.
As a dad of four girls ages 8 to 17, let me tell you I’ve been here more times than I can count. The good news is that some things you are fretting about – maybe even most things – are transient. People say “It’s just a phase,” because most of the time it really is just a phase.
But in the heat of the moment, when there are no more words, you still need to do something to get everyone back to their happy place. These are the moments when I fall back on three simple actions:
1) Calm down
The first, and in my view, most important thing to do is to calm yourself down. Declare a “time out for daddy” and remove yourself from the situation for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths, do a couple stretches, putter in the garage, take a quick walk in the backyard – in short, do whatever works for you to lower your blood pressure. This is the parenting equivalent of “Put your mask on first before helping others with theirs” approach, and it’s essential.
2) Give silent comfort
Once you are calm, go back to the room. In my experience, the kid will usually ignore you, maybe even tell you to go away. That’s fine. Don’t say a word, just sit down and put your hand on their back, maybe pat it a little, and wait. I call it silent comfort – you can call it whatever you want, but this is the idea – and it can have a surprisingly powerful effect. In my experience, just reassuring them that you are not off somewhere being mad at them forever is very effective. Seeing you calm and relaxed sends a signal that things are okay, and that they can calm down as well.
3) Feed the beast
Once the tears have stopped, and the hugs have been administered, now it’s time to proffer up a small snack. I don’t mean chocolate cake or ice cream or cookies – aside from being unhealthy, these kinds of treats feel too much like a reward for calming down. Instead, I opt for a cut apple, goldfish crackers, or some other benign nibble that they like but doesn’t feel like a special treat. Some people will disagree with this approach, saying it fosters “eating away your pain” behavior. In my unscientific opinion, what I think it does is create a break, a transitional activity to move past the negative event to a more positive one.
Also, sometimes kids are just hungry and they get peevey. True fact.
I usually do all three of these actions in tandem, a 3-Step Guide to Restoring Sanity, if you will.
Occasionally, I will combine step 2 and 3 and show up back in their room relaxed and ready to make up with a bowl of cut fruit as my peace offering. The key here is not to skip step 2 and go straight to food offering – that would fall in the category of eating to feel better.
As my kids have gotten older, I have used a variant of this and made going to the kitchen and letting them cut the fruit part of the transitional activity. That works too.
As parents we try hard to get it right all the time, but that’s not going to happen. Hopefully these three steps will give you some little victories along the way to finally figuring it all out.
Have you figured it all out? Please do tell and leave a comment below!
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