When my boys were younger, my husband often worked long hours and I was on my own. A lot. My older sons were 2 years apart, and my youngest son followed 4 years later. To say my “hands were full” just barely gives it justice. I was committed to them for sure, and wanted to be the best mom I could be, but honestly it was exhausting and I opportunistically grabbed “me time” any chance I could. Most nights, I knew I could count on this much-cherished time once dinner was over. The boys would gleefully run to the basement to play and I would exhaustedly plop in a chair to flip through a magazine, watch a favorite show, or just close my eyes for a quick rest. I knew before it even began that my time would be limited because, without fail, something would go horribly awry in the basement and I would be jolted from my relaxed state and furiously charge to the basement to deal with that night’s mayhem. It could be after 5 minutes or 25 minutes, but it WOULD happen. Every. Single. Time. It seems crazy now, but I suppose the desperate need to have time to myself was worth this cost, this warped return on investment. The weird thing was, the boys would end up being yelled at and punished, but apparently, the cost was worth it to them too. And what were they getting for this cost of time out and lectures? ME! All of my biggest and most excited energy front and center for as long as it took to calm every one down and get them separated.
If you have children at home, you may see some version of your life in this story, and like I was, may find yourself perplexed as to why your children would want to “get in trouble” over and over again. The truth is we have our energy upside-down. For most of us, when things are going well we relax and go about our business, but the minute a problem arises we show up, and boy do we SHOW UP! As Howard Glasser of the Nurtured Heart Approach® states, “Adults might let hours of neutral or even good behaviors go unacknowledged, but as soon as a child starts to push boundaries, they are on it at lightning speed.” What I have come to learn is that our children want and need connection with us. All children require this, and some of the more sensitive and higher intensity kids need that connection at very deep and intimate levels. If they do not receive this connection when things are going well, we end up inadvertently teaching them they can get it when they push our buttons. We all feel busy and stressed these days. Oftentimes, when I am coaching a parent they will lament that it’s hard to set aside one on one time with their child each day. However, all parents always have time to show up for a problem, and our kids get the message and adapt accordingly. One of the pathways to a more peaceful home is to flip the energy right-side up. In other words, unplug from the negative and throw all of your voltage towards your children when things are going well.
Initially, switching your energy may feel weird and unnatural, but I assure you with determined and relentless practice, it will ultimately become second nature. The payout will be that your children will get your energy and the deep connection they are looking for from following the rules, and the need to push the boundaries to get your time and attention will be eliminated. Begin by making a commitment to yourself that when problems arise you will no longer show up in a big way. Present your calm, cool and collected self, speak softly and with purpose and completely unplug from your child until they have stopped breaking the rule. The instant they are back on track, acknowledge their efforts in a big way. You can say something like, “Wow, I know you are still upset about not getting more dessert, but now you are not screaming or throwing things. You are using amazing self-control, what an awesome quality!” Also, take advantage of all of those times that your kids are following the rules outside of conflict. So, instead of completely disappearing like I did when your kids are playing, stick around or pop in so you can let them know how great they are. Are they being cooperative, kind, respectful, responsible, thoughtful, wise? Let them know as often as you can. Instead of waiting to teach the rule as it’s being broken, teach it in the context of it actually being followed. Way more powerful and impactful. Soon, you will be on your way to having the peaceful and harmonious home you have always dreamed of!
Source: Glasser, H. “The Transforming the Intense Child Workbook”