Isn’t is easy to become discouraged about parenting? One minute you’re planning an amazing day out with the family and the next you’re ready to call the whole thing off. You know the scenario that proceeds. Your kids are refusing to eat their breakfast and they don’t want to get dressed. You eventually bribe them into achieving those tasks and wrestle them into the car. The joy that originally inspired the outing starts to fade. So, you gather yourself together reminding yourself that you’re the adult here. You let the surprise out and tell your kids where you are going to which they promptly show their disdain and let you know that they would rather go to McDonald’s. They’re upset and you’re upset. Everyone is now in a bad mood.
At this point it can feel as if a bomb just went off in our skulls. If our kids are having a meltdown at this point, we’re ready to reciprocate by having one of our own. You feel annoyed because of the effort you’ve put into the day. But you also feel bad for losing your cool. Events such as these happen to various degrees and on some days, we might feel more up to the challenge. Other days not so much. We know these moments can’t be avoided but I think most parents would agree that if they could just learn to handle these situations a little bit better it would probably go a long way. Easier said than done, right?
So why is it so difficult to keep our cool in these interactions with our kids. To answer that we need to look at a little brain science. You see, the brain can be separated into two parts. The upper brain and the lower brain. The lower portion of the brain controls more basic functions such as breathing and blinking. It’s a reactive state that creates automatic responses based on past experiences. It’s where our fight or flight kicks in when faced with danger. The upper portion of the brain is for higher level thinking. This where we plan, observe and make decisions. When this part of the brain is in control when we feel safe, secure and receptive towards others. Both parts are vital and carry out important functions but when it comes to discipline one is a greater companion then the other.
We’ve all witnessed this in our children. Moments where we can talk and reason with them (depending on their age) or moments where they react or shut down at even the slightest of infractions (this one starts almost the moment they’re born). So, what do we do with this information? Well, the first thing is to start recognizing when it happens. Start watching your children and observing their triggers. What gets them mad or shuts them down. Write these things down so you can think about them later during your devotions. The second thing is to observe them in yourself. What gets you upset and causes you to lose your cool. What makes you shut down and sink into yourself. Write these down as well. Then you can begin to see these moments through a new lens. When you and your kids are both in a reactive state most discipline will just be viewed as a threat. As a result, they’re less likely to respond. The chance then of a desired lesson being learned is significantly diminished. But when you’re both in a receptive state they are more willing to apologize or listen to requests like eating or getting dressed. That is where you want them to be.
Let’s expand on this a bit more. When you find yourself in a reactive state it’s more likely you’ll start doling out random disciplines. This isn’t the right place to be giving them out from. As mentioned, before it’s the lower and reactive brain that resorts to defaults. You are far more likely to act out of anger while here. You start making threats you can’t keep. Like telling them to behave or you’ll take them home when visiting with another family. Do you intend to end the visit short? Now this isn’t to say consequences aren’t in order but how do you know if they’re valid if you’re just reacting? The bible speaks about this in proverbs when it says: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1. In order to get a proper handle on a reactive child you first need to get yourself into a receptive state. If you’ve strayed. To do this you will need to engage with God in a bit of personal ministry. It might be tough in the moment but if you’ve already spent some time watching for your triggers, you’ll already be self-aware. This alongside regular devotions and using the tools from the Abide Journal you’ll be able to get back on track. Not that you won’t slip but you’ll at least understand your families triggers and get better at predicting them. Now you are able you walk alongside your kids helping them do the same because you’ve returned to your receptive upper brain where thinking and reasoning takes place. If you don’t do this, you’ll just be curbing the behavior and rarely speak the truth you desire into yourself or your child. Another amazing thing is that through repetition of these lessons (yes, your child will need the same lessons repeated) eventually do work their way into the reactive lower brain and become your child’s defaults. Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Now, to do this you’re also going to need to develop a new perspective on your parenting. You’re going to need to begin seeing the meltdowns and tantrums as where your parenting begins. Not necessarily moments to avoid but rather as teachable moments instead. You’ll never avoid their ups and downs. Just like you can’t avoid them in your own life. But if you’re willing to step up to the plate you can help you and your children to better navigate them.