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How well do you handle yourself when you’re upset with your kids?
Me? Sometimes I respond extremely well, making myself proud of how loving and understanding and patient I've remained. At other times, I lower myself to my kids’ level and resort to the childishness that upset me in the first place.
My message to you today is that when you respond to your kids from a less-than-optimal place, take heart: Most likely, you’re still providing them with all kinds of valuable experiences.
For example, have you ever found yourself so frustrated with your kids that you call out, a good bit louder than you need to, “That’s it! The next one who complains about where they’re sitting in the car has to sit in that same seat for the rest of the year!”?
Or maybe, when your 8-year-old pouts and complains all the way to school because you made her practice her piano, your parting words as she departs the minivan are, “I hope you have a great day, now that you’ve ruined the whole morning.”
Obviously, these aren’t examples of perfect parenting. And if you’re like me, you beat yourself up for the times when you don’t handle things the way you wish you had.
So here’s hope: Those not-so-great parenting moments are potentially valuable experiences. Why? Because these less-than-perfect parental responses give kids opportunities to deal with difficult situations and therefore develop new skills.
Here are some of the ways these moments, while not optimal, can still be instructive:
● The kids have to learn to control themselves even though their parent isn’t doing such a great job of controlling herself.
● They get to see you model how to apologize and make things right.
● They experience that when there is conflict and argument, there can be repair, and things can become good again. This helps them feel safe and not so afraid in relationships. They learn to trust, and even expect, that calm and connection will follow conflict.
● They see that you’re not perfect, so they won’t expect themselves to be, either.
● They learn that their actions affect other people’s emotions and behavior.
● If we were perfect with them, the first time a friend or teacher was reactive it could be shocking and terrifying.
Abuse, of course, is different. Or if you’re significantly harming the relationship or scaring your child, then the experience is no longer valuable for either of you. In fact, that’s going to damage you both, and you should seek the help of a professional in order to make whatever changes are necessary so that your children feel safe.
But as long as you maintain the relationship and repair with your child afterwards, then you can cut yourself some slack and know that even though you might wish you’d done things differently, that’s still a valuable experience for your child, even if it means he has to control himself simply because Mom is mad at the moment.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim for the extreme good when we respond to our kids in high-stress situations (or any other time). The more loving and nurturing we can be, the better. We can give ourselves a break when we’re not perfect, because those situations provide moments of value as well. They give our kids opportunities to learn important lessons that will prepare them for future conflict and relationships, and even teach them how to love.