It’s hard to always know what the source of your kids’ behavior is and to know how to respond appropriately. Sometimes your kids are acting a certain way because they’re distracted by something more exciting or have different plans than you. Or in other words, it’s a battle of wills. Other times, your kids are doing what they’re doing because they are actually expressing an inner emotional experience, like fear, sadness or futility. They often couldn’t even tell you why they’re acting that way (ie. they’re not doing it just to piss you off), but if we look closer, oftentimes your kid keeps coming out of their room at bedtime, hits their little sister, or has a meltdown in aisle three because there’s something going on for them, something big, and they’re not sure what it is, what to do about it and they need your help.
If the elusive source of your kids’ behavior isn’t challenging enough, our kids’ behavior often triggers our own emotional reaction, rendering us distracted and reactive. So not only am I indifferent to their emotional struggle, but I’m feeling overwhelmed by my own.
It can be hard to know exactly how to respond to your kids’ behavior all the time, but as a general rule, it’s important that we catch our internal reactions, notice that their behavior may be a call for comfort and connection and ask ourselves two questions:
1. The first question is: What big emotion might my kid be struggling with? You may have to think on this one a bit. Usually, we get so carried way by our own thoughts, feelings and emotional reactions that it can be hard to tune in.
2. What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are coming up for me in reaction to my kids’ behavior? When you pause to reflect inward, you are activating the part of your brain that calms the automatic emotion/stress center of your brain (ie. the part of your brain that is wired to keep you safe in case of threat, like a tantruming child), as well as engages your ability for compassion and empathy, hence a more calmer and thoughtful response to your kids’ behavior.
More often than not, the biggest obstacle to supporting our kids emotionally and setting boundaries on their behavior comes from our internal discomfort and disconnection from our own emotional world. In other words, the key here is learning to catch yourself and check-in, and ultimately develop your own understanding and acceptance for yourself so that you can react less and be more calm, confident and loving when your kids flip out.
That doesn’t mean of course that your just because your kid is struggling with a big emotion they can do as they please, but it does mean that you are willing to separate your kid’s actions from the source and better able to respond with compassion.