I wouldn’t describe our children as the outgoing type. For years, we begged them to respond when spoken to instead of turning their heads or hiding behind our backs. Our daughter would not let her grandma anywhere near her for close to a year. I can’t recall how many threats we used, but I can remember how little impact they had. Becoming conscious that we were parenting in the “heat of the moment” was a great awakening. Our threats were a reflection, not of our attempt to teach our children important lessons, but rather of our embarrassment. Parenting in the heat of the moment. We all do it: You’re in a rush, your daughter isn’t dressed, you panic and dress her even though she’s four and perfectly capable of dressing herself. You have to repeat yourself 1,000 times. You start yelling and blame your kids. Your son doesn’t want to share his toys with his friends. You get embarrassed and force him to. This approach may get you instant results, but are you sure they’re the results you want? “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future” – one of my favourite Roosevelt quotes. It means parenting is about focusing on the adult you want to raise, even as you pay attention to the child you’re raising. It means keeping an eye on the big picture, the long term objectives. It means parenting with intentionality. So what do you do to avoid parenting in the heat of the moment and start parenting with intentionality?
1 | Focus on the lesson
What’s the real lesson you’re trying to teach? What do you teach them when you force them to speak to or kiss strangers? What lesson would you like to teach them when they refuse to share their toys? Don’t let embarrassment dictate the lesson you teach. Your child doesn’t have to like everyone. We have taught our children to say hello in any way they like (blow a kiss, wave, shake hands), but we no longer force them to “make conversation” or “be nice.”
2 | Choose your battles wisely
Kids will be kids. That’s what they’re supposed to be. Stop sweating the small stuff. Be flexible. Perfect the art of family negotiation. Be willing to let some things slide.
3 | Identify your triggers
Some things set us off more than others. What works you up? Repeating the same thing 1,000 times? Your son mouthing off? Your fatigue? When we identify our triggers, we can nip things in the bud before they get out of hand.
4 | Be 100 percent consistent
Parenting with intentionality means setting clear guidelines and sticking to them. “You can watch TV once you finish your homework.” No homework, no TV. Period. Every parent knows that idle threats don’t work. If you tell your child you’re counting until three and then…be sure you know (and they know) what happens once you get to three. If you tell your daughter she will be punished for hitting her brother, punish her each and every time she does so.
5 | Model the behavior
Your children watch and learn from you more than you think they do. How you react to anger teaches them what is considered appropriate behavior. As Jane Clayson Johnson says, “If you can control your behavior when everything around you is out of control, you can model for your children a valuable lesson in patience and understanding...and snatch an opportunity to shape character.” How do you deal with frustration? How do you express your anger? Reacting out of embarrassment can be confusing for kids. Own your reactions. Show your child your anger, but show them how you’re responding to that anger in appropriate ways.
6 | Make the decision to parent mindfully
You’re mad as hell. You’re seething. You’re just about to yell. Don’t. Walk away. Stop responding from an angry place. Or try this: Just before you yell, say to yourself, “I will not yell.” Works like magic. Seriously. Try it out next time, and let me know if it worked in the comments below.