Responding with sensitivity when it’s hard

by Alexis Schrader on May 21, 2015

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bracelets-2-799181-mAs an API Leader, I frequently give parents guidance on ways to respond to their children in different situations. But the truth is, I don’t always follow my own advice. As all parents know, it’s one thing to be removed from a situation and think about solutions rationally; it’s quite another to deal with a public tantrum or a kid who won’t go to bed when you are exhausted and frustrated. That’s why it’s important to have tools at your disposal to cope with these situations before they arise.

First, it’s helpful to become aware of how often you respond in a way you’d rather not and what triggers those responses. Some parents use stacking rings or bangles on one side of the body, and move one to the other side each time they respond to their children in a way they’d rather not. A jewelry-free option would be gently snapping a rubber band on your wrist. This helps you become more conscious of how you respond to your children, and any patterns that provoke a certain response.

As for preventing an unwanted response, here are a few ideas:

  • Do some kind of physical activity, such as running around the house, jumping up and down or dancing. Exercise helps the brain process stress that might otherwise be directed toward your children. It’s also pretty funny for little kids to see Mom or Dad suddenly jumping up and down, which can diffuse a stressful situation.
  • Sing what you would like to say to your child. Singing prevents you from yelling and tends to gets kids’ attention more easily than talking, because it’s out of the ordinary. It also forces you to control your breath, which will help to calm you down.
  • Have a mantra that calms you down. You can put it on sticky notes around the house, write it on your arm or just repeat it to yourself. Bonus points, if it also makes you laugh. My personal favorite is yelling, “Serenity now!” (Try not to feel better after that. It’s impossible.)
  • Leave the room. I’ve had parents express concern about this, because it seems similar to a timeout. The difference is, a timeout is a controlled response by the parent to the child. Leaving the room is helpful when you know you can’t control your response, and it will be less damaging to your connection with your child than what you might otherwise say or do. Take deep breaths, scream into a pillow, whatever you need to do to calm down. When you come back — or before you go, if you’re able — you can explain to your child what happened: For example, “I was feeling frustrated, and I needed to take a break to calm down.” This can be a great opportunity to open a dialog with your child about negative feelings and healthy ways to deal with them.

Even with these tricks, don’t expect to be a perfect parent all the time. We all make mistakes. Just be sure to take time to reconnect with your child when you do. Try to keep your stress levels low by taking time for yourself, and do the best you can.

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Editor’s note: This post was published originally on Oct. 25, 2008, and it continues to give timeless inspiration to parents seeking connection at meal time:

soup-1414949-mAll this talk about presence has made me re-examine some of the good, and bad, habits my family has fallen into.

When I was a new mom, and therefore full of boundless optimism and energy, I promised my family would never watch television during dinner. I swore that we would use that time to talk about our day, connect with each other over world events, get reaquainted with the people we lived with day to day.

Then I went to school, got a couple years of solid and consistent sleep deprivation under my belt, and had another child. His existence contributed to the growing sleep deficit — basically insuring that I can’t finish a thought, much less a sentence, most of the time.

It began with quasi-educational programming, followed by a discussion of said programming. We would watch “Mythbusters” and discuss the physics and science behind the tests they did, or “Survivorman” and discuss the problem-solving techniques he used. Sometimes we would watch “Dirty Jobs” and talk about the importance of a good, solid education.

Then it became whatever show we wanted, and the discussions stopped. Eventually I realized we were training our children to watch television over dinner. I would ladle out soup and hear, “What are we going to watch tonight?” from my daughter. This awoke the long, slumbering power mom who swore the TV would be relegated to an hour total each day, never during dinner. She woke up mad that I had let this family slide into it’s current state of disconnection through television.

So the other night, I made my family play rudimentary Pictionary while we ate.

It was a huge success. We all drew a picture of something, movie, book or thing and let each person guess what it was. Most of the meal was spent laughing at each other’s renderings and misunderstandings. When dinner was over, there was a small pile of “art” on the table and a sense of reconnect in the family — one we hadn’t felt in a while.

We are still exhausted and crazed, and I am transitioning from stay-at-home mom to work-from-home mom, so I am sure there will be days when we slip back into our bad TV habits. However, I am hoping we can toss in more days of board games and conversation, allowing us to reconnect with each other and be more present in each others’ lives. I am also going to encourage a return to educational television during dinner, followed by a discussion, as that allows a similar connection to occur on days when TV seems like the right answer.

I hope my decision appeases the power mom inside me. I hate to disappoint her too often. She has fantastic, if sometimes somewhat unrealistic, goals.

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