Let's make New Year's resolutions that will improve yours and your children's happiness. Ones that will make better, kinder, smarter, braver, more creative, and, most importantly, more loving children that grow up into adults you will be proud of.
It is actually quite simple. There are just a few steps. It is not an overnight change, but moment to moment changes that will, with some time, impact your child's trust and respect in you. And its actually not going to take that much time.
STEP 1: LET GO OF THE FEAR that your child's misbehavior means something bad will happen.
Just because they don't listen to you pick up their toys, doesn't mean they won't be able to listen to their boss when they are 25. We would tell our kids that just because they did poorly on this test, doesn't mean they will fail the 4th grade, right? It also doesn't mean that you are a bad parent. If your child is misbehaving, all it means is that they are growing up and learning. Letting go of the fear will help you decrease any intense emotional reactions.
STEP 2: NAME THE EMOTION. This is THE MOSTIMPORTANT thing you can do. Much of when we have conflict it becomes heated, yelling occurs, and we punish. What if we slowed things down and just named the feeling your child was having? ("I know you're disappointed you have to stop playing and come inside".) What if you took a minute and named your feeling you were having? ("I am getting frustrated".) Helping your child to identify and express their feelings is key in growing up happy and healthy.
A recent fMRI neuroscience study, Putting Feelings Into Words, looked at what happens in the brain when emotions are activated. Our amygdala (a very tiny, almond shaped part of our brain that is responsible for fight, flight and freeze responses), holds many of our negative emotions. When participants viewed pictures of people with emotional expressions, their amygdala was activated. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the prefrontal cortex (the front, thinking and problem solving part of our brain) activated and reduced the emotional fight or flight reactivity in the amygdala.
STEP 3: NOW GIVE CHOICES. Now that we are in the thinking part of our child's brain, he or she can make a well informed choice about how they would like to respond to our request. When they are in fight or flight, all they can see is what they want to do. Its not really a fair way to parent, from their amygdala. ("Do you want to turn off the video game now and let's get our stuff done, so we can play later, or do you want to sit here and ignore me and then I have to turn it off and it feels yucky for everyone?"). When we can let our children make choices about their own positive or negative consequences, we build an internal locus of control, or inner voice in them which is better for a positive sense of self-worth. In addition, it helps them listen to their own voice instead of their friends' voices as they get older and are in situations that require them to make healthy choices away from their parents.
STEP 4: STRENGTHEN YOUR RELATIONSHIP DURING NON-CONFLICT TIMES. Here it is again, NAME THAT EMOTION. When your kids are upset, the number one thing you should do is just reflect back how they are feeling! You don't have to fix anything. If kids know that their parents understand how they feel, they will tell them more and more as they get older. They will also not be afraid to share their feelings with loved ones in the future. Neuroscience research shows that when we attempt to bury an emotion, it actually makes it worse in some cases. The limbic system becomes more aroused and it secrets stress hormones such as cortisol which contributes to stress related headaches, stomache aches and longer term physiological diseases. There is also mounting evidence that it creates life-long patterns of anxiety and depression. I have found that if we can fix the parent-child attachment through these 4 steps, much of a child's misbehavior or other problems resolve.
THAT'S IT! ATTACHMENT BUILDS COMPLIANCE. There is often something else going on underneath your child's bad behavior. If we learn to reflect back our children's feelings, we can discover it. Perhaps they had a very bad day at school and they are trying to escape it by playing video games. What if they were angry at us for yelling at them yesterday and they are getting revenge, perhaps unconsiously by not doing the dishes when we ask? If we explore their emotions, and just listen, much can be learned and then the problem can be solved. It strengthens our children's attachment to us. If you can be emotionally safe for your children to talk to, even about YOUR OWN behavior, they will have so much more respect for you and WANT to do what you ask them because they will want to!
A great parenting resource is Dan Siegel's book, No Drama Discipline. He uses a simple, upstairs brain (prefrontal cortex, and downtstairs brain (amygdala) metaphor to help parents remember what they are activitating in their child when they are talking with them. He has an easy to read and follow recipe for connection.
Try it out. Name that feeling! See what happens in your relationship with your children.