The time a truck almost killed me and what it has to do with parenting
Sometimes people give us parents the advice that says if our kid bites someone, we should bite them back – to show them how it feels. That’s exactly the kind of quid pro quo parenting that doesn’t make any sense! We are their leaders! We’re here to show them how to behave as opposed to how NOT to behave. In most cases the biting child (not a teething child – that’s different) knows that biting hurts. They’re biting out of aggression! They’re biting because they’re angry, and they’re trying to hurt and elicit a response. Biting them back shows them that biting is a good idea when you’re angry! Look! Even Mummy does it! I’m angry with you because you bit, so now I’ll bite you. How does that cycle end? How then do we pull them out and say that behavior is NOT acceptable?
As adults we want to keep our kids safe and protected, kiss their boo-boos, and protect them from scary things like bad guys and accidents. The truth is, sometimes the most dangerous things children face is us. Our own tempers, anger and reactivity. Sometimes we are leaking a toxic drip of reactions that can be really damaging to their psyche, their sense of self, and certainly our relationship with them. I know that’s true for me.I feel very lucky I live in a safe neighborhood, where modern medicine and modern plumbing have done away with many dangers so my children don’t have to face them. But when I lose it with my children, I know that’s really toxic for them. My ego wants to tell me: “That’s what parenting is. They deserved it! I have every right to my feelings, and to be angry.” My ego wants to make excuses for my poor behavior. Maybe you’ve experienced this too, when we yell, shame, blame, make threats, or call them names we excuse ourselves.
Adult tantrums are ineffective, and frankly inexcusable. OK we’re all human, don’t get me wrong! I have adult tantrums from time to time and you can have yours, but let’s not make excuses for them.
Let me tell you a little story.
One day I was driving along in my car and was having a really hard day. My boss had said something I was frustrated about that day, I was in a fight with a family member, and I was on very little sleep. And I’m driving along and I was distracted, upset, and I actually merged lanes without indicating and I swerved right in front of a huge truck. I ALMOST crashed into him. It was scary and dangerous. He slammed on the brakes and got so angry and triggered that he wanted to get back at me, he wanted to punish me. Have you ever been in that situation on the road where you wanted to see the other driver’s face or give them the middle finger? He was trying to overtake me and cut me off too. He was endangering both of us. I wasn’t proud, but his response was to stoop to my level and endanger us both.
We need to be the adult in the driver seat so that when emotions get out of hand. The response of raging back at our children and shaming them, actually just perpetuates the cycle and creates emotional danger and toxicity in a sense for us all. When we unleash our anger on our kids we’re like a big truck next to a small car. It’s truly dangerous, but it’s also so misguided. Does it help them to recover from their poor and behave better? Does it teach them to make better choices?
No. It doesn’t create the type of environment that we want at home.
It actually cycles those tantruming behaviors. Just like the driver who swerved back and yelled at me, he wasn’t saying “Whoah, you need some space right now, I’m going to hold back.” When we tantrum, yell, lose it, shame, throw things, threaten – we’re behaving in unacceptable ways. Everybody does that from time to time, but the question is how do we frame it up? Do we listen to the ego, that says it’s OK and our children deserved it? Or do we acknowledge that it wasn’t OK, apologize for our behaviors, and take real concrete efforts to make changes in the future so that we don’t repeat that on auto drive?
As parents, we work so hard to keep our kids protected in this world, and feeling comfortable and happy. Wouldn’t it be great to start by putting some of that worrisome energy into changing our own behavior, and into learning how to manage our own “road rage.”
STEP 1 is identifying that we have a problem with anger. We must admit that it’s hard to stay calm in the face of feeling triggered by our kids.
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Have you been in a situation where you were not proud of you’re behavior? Like getting angry at the cashier in the supermarket? Yelling in the car at the other drivers? How would you want the people closest to you to treat you in that moment? How would you want them to help calm down your nervous system?
It’s probably not by yelling back, shaming or threatening you. That’s what we do as parents though, isn’t it? We come down like a ton of bricks, trying to shut it down, trying to get back at them while thinking “You won’t treat me that way!” “I won’t raise a spoiled brat!” “How dare he?” All the fears come to our mind. We’re clearly not thinking with the pre-frontal cortex here, because then we would realize the child is having a hard time, and that in fact our response is ineffective. Their behavior is simply communication.
That’s what the term “acting out” means. Someone is acting out a feeling. I’ll bet no one’s kid is going to come up to them and say, “Hey mum, I’m having a really hard day. I didn’t sleep enough, and someone was being mean to me at school, and I’ve had too much sugar and not enough leafy greens today. Would you mind going a little easy on me today?”
Not quite how it works, is it? Instead, they’re rude, they roll their eyes, or throw something instead of placing it gently. Moreover, when we’re not #adulting in these situations, that’s an indication that we’re having a hard time regulating ourselves. Our role as adults though is to overcome and rise above as much as possible. In those times that we don’t, extend ourselves compassion and apologize. In order to lead, anyone, we need to have empathy for them. To understand where they’ve been, and we also need to have some authority. This comes from overcoming something they have overcome, from walking a mile in their shoes. It’s because we have the skills they are working master.
If we want to raise kids who can regulate themselves, who make good choices, and can calm themselves down when they’re overly riled up, we’re going to have to do the hard task of learning how to master those skills ourselves. Here are 4 Steps to Calm Down when You’re Feeling Triggered & 7 Ways to Deal With Parenting When You’re Triggered