It was Gandhi who told us to ‘Be the change we wish to see’, and today’s offering is not far wrong.
Because something’s going on for my eight year old ATM that I can’t quite work out, and I’m not finding myself liking the way I’m handling it.
So this is how the story goes…
My son wakes up, and often before he’s even out of bed he’s objecting about something.
Any attempts on my part to be empathetic is met with a response that seems frustrated or angry.
I try to give him some space, but then we come to ‘What do you want for breakfast?’ and why, oh why can it not just NOT be easy??!
First I get ignored.
Then I ‘I don’t KNOW!’ through gritted teeth.
Finally, I don’t even get a ‘Thank you’.
Then I have to ask at least five times for him to put his dishes in the sink.
And even though this takes place over ten minutes, he angrily replies ‘Give me chance!’
I know I get triggered by being ignored. And by being spoken to like that, because that’s not how I’ve raised him.
But if I step back objectively, I get a very different perspective to when I’m in the midst of this situation myself.
I can see that, in my own response, I’m using the same tone of voice as him.
I’m reflecting back the very behaviours that I’m actually objecting to.
The ‘mirror neuron network’ in the human brain unfortunately makes us fall foul of this too readily (explained in a different blog here!), so I’m not giving myself too hard a time about this.
But, in not handling the situation well myself, I’m probably – albeit not intentionally – giving him the vibes that I don’t much like him in that moment.
Not exactly the recipe for making things better…
So, quoting more words of wisdom I once heard; ‘We teach what we need to learn’; this is what I’m working on teaching myself today, and any other parent who identifies;
A child who seems permanently frustrated probably has a brain that’s already on the fringes of fight or flight, a function that typically occurs beneath our conscious awareness.
Tiredness may play a part, but there’s a good chance that something’s bubbling beneath the surface that nobody knows about.
And maybe we’ll never know; sometimes there’s so much change and development occurring in a child’s brain that it can be impossible to fathom whether this is just part of normal – albeit frustrating – development, or down to an environmental factor.
But this is how I’d suggest they handle it;
Avoid the demands to ‘get up, get dressed’ etc. too soon, even if it’s already late. The world will not end if we are five minutes late for school.
But a day that starts badly often only gets worse.
You might be 100% bang-on that they’re annoyed, but a brain close to flight or flight typically feels very defensive so, even if “Why are you so annoyed?’” is well intended, it’s easily interpreted as an accusation.
Soften the tone in a ways that you might be wrong (even if you aren’t); “You seem to be having a hard time, I’m guessing you’re irritated…”
Don’t expect your child to work through the problem there and then.
The reactive fight or flight response hijacks the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking so; counter-intuitive as it may feel; insisting on solving the problem may just fuel the fire.
Just focus on connection and staying out of conflict for now.
Don’t take it personally. When our kids are co-operative at school, or behave impeccably for others, it can hurt when they’re anything but for us.
Like yesterday I was told ‘I don’t like you anymore’. I don’t always resist the urge to rise to it, but on that occasion I did.
I said ‘That’s ok’ and it fizzled out because there was nowhere to go with it.
At the end of the day-and frequently at the beginning!-what it comes down to is that we’re our kids’ ‘safe space’.
They can take off the mask with us, and let it all hang out.
Sometimes the worst behaviour is an inverted compliment; ‘I can be my worst self with you, and I know you’ll still love me.’
If you’re going to take anything personally, make it that 💓
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