“Children need our compassion the most when they seem to deserve it the least.”
Katherine Winter-Sellery, Speaker, Trainer, and Coach
When facing challenging behaviors from our children, we might struggle to manage our own emotions. Our knee-jerk reaction might be to yell, scream, or argue. We might send our kids to their rooms or take something away from them to teach them a lesson. Reactions like this can be understandable and relatable. No parent likes to see their child make poor choices over and over. We all have our breaking points. However, when dealing with problematic behaviors, managing our emotions can be one of the most crucial aspects for setting boundaries and consequences.
We Choose the Environment We Want to Live In
As Katherine Winter Sellery discusses on “Beyond Risk and Back” with Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey, we get to choose what kind of environment we want to live in. When we decided to allow our knee-jerk responses to dictate the way we set boundaries and consequences for our children, we set up a reactive environment. Our children might appear to follow our rule of law out of fear rather than out of learning the skills they need to succeed in life.
When children act out or engage in problematic behaviors, they need our love, support, and compassion the most; they are in a crisis and are reaching out for help. We might feel tempted to lecture our kids and express our disappointment in them. We might want to shun them or cut them off to teach them a lesson. However, in the long-run, these automatic and emotional reactions will not create the peaceful, supportive, and secure environment that our kids need to make the right choices.
Our Feelings Belong to Us
The feelings that we have based on our child’s behavior belong to us. When we react out of anger, we might deliver a message that is not focused on or helpful to our children. Your feelings are your responsibility and belong to you. They are entirely valid and justified; however, these emotions are your responsibility to manage. Often, when we react and respond quickly, we are unintentionally sending the message that our child is responsible for our emotional state. They might generalize this lesson to believe that they are responsible for others’ emotions–learning to “walk on eggshells” or “not make waves.”
As Aaron Huey says during coaching calls with parents, we can feel one thing and then do another thing. When your child engages in problematic behaviors, such as cutting, drinking, drug use, or running away, for example, you might feel disappointed, upset, sad, angry, worried, or a whole set of varying emotions. These behaviors are not meant to hurt you. Your child is going through a crisis and needs compassion, love, and understanding.
Getting Our Emotions in Check
When our kids are dealing with a crisis, being level-headed and compassionate can be the most helpful thing that we do for them. We can serve our kids best by meeting them with a clear head without the backing of emotions. While getting our emotions in check, it is vital to keep the following in mind:
- Acknowledge how you feel about your child’s behavior.
- Keeping emotions in check is not about denial or “pushing feelings down.”
- Talk to your parenting partner, a friend, or other supportive people about how you feel.
- Resource to other parents, professionals, and other sources.
- Research information on the internet or talk to others about what is happening with your child.
- You might find that the issue is not as uncommon as you think, which can alleviate some negative emotions, like shame or guilt about your child’s behavior.
- Share with your child the steps that you took to come to a rational state of mind.
- You can tell your child that you have to take a step back because you are upset.
- This will show your child how to deal with a crisis and shows them that they are not responsible for your feelings.
- Give yourself time before taking action.
- Often, our first reactions to shocking or disappointing behavior lead to miscommunication, regret, or shame.
- Allow yourself time to find the answers you need to set your kid on the right path.
- Remember that no one is perfect, and managing emotions is a skill!
- If you do “lose your cool” or react emotionally, acknowledge what happened, apologize, and move on.
- You are allowed to have emotions and work through them. You can apologize for an emotional reaction and still set consequences for your child’s behavior.
Managing our emotions when our kids are acting out can be challenging. We might feel the need to yell or lecture our children at the moment when they engage in problem behaviors. We might believe that consequences for actions need to be immediate for the lesson to stick with our child. As parents, we might feel disappointed, angry, or upset with our children during a crisis. Remember that problematic behaviors are your child’s way of communicating that something is going wrong. These are the times when your child needs you the most. Keep your emotional reactions in check to meet them with compassion, love, and understanding. Being the parent of a child with challenging behavioral issues, like addiction, cutting, running away, promiscuity, or other issues, is difficult. However, you are not alone. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here for both teens and parents to build the skills needed for a happy, healthy home environment. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.