Parents tell me daily that they regret yelling at their children, or using a condescending tone, or maybe pushing in a moment of extreme frustration. Children can be really difficult and frustrating. Staying calm in the face of their annoying behaviors can be one of the most difficult challenges that parents face. ADHD adds a whole other dimension to this challenge, and even the most calm of parents will “lose it” periodically.
So besides the typical, “count to 10” and “take a deep breath,” what are the best tips for parents who want to manage your reactions in the face of annoying, sometimes awful, behavior of your children? Here are my three personal favorites that I've also used with both my own offspring, as well as my occasionally-trying spouse.
1. Do a serious mindset check.
Our mindset always leads to our feelings, and our feelings lead to our behaviors. It is likely to cause less than positive reactions if your mindset sounds something like one of these:
- “Why me, why do I have such bad children?”
- “My kids are purposely evil and trying to ruin my life.”
- “Why can't my kids be as good as Suzie's kids?”
A victim-like or adversarial mindset will only lead to angry and frustrated feelings, which lead to negative parenting behaviors. Rarely do our kids misbehave just to torture us. Typically, they misbehave because they are struggling with their own issues. If we don't take their behavior personally, it will be so much easier for us to respond positively and with appropriate consequences.
2. Buy yourself some time with a little empathy for aggravating children.
What's that? It's acknowledging the emotions of your little angels regardless of how frustrating they may be behaving. You might say something such as:
- “You are really upset right now” or
- “You are so frustrated that you just want to scream and yell.”
Then you want to validate their feelings, even if you don't understand them at all. After acknowledging their feelings you might say:
- “Who could blame you for being so upset?” or
- “Anyone in your shoes might be really frustrated.”
Why would we do this and how does it help us to manage our reactions? Empathy will help your child calm down almost immediately, and it will buy you time to calm down yourself. Empathy is an automatic mindset change, in that we take the focus off of how angry we are in order to focus on the feelings of our children. It isn't always easy to do, but trust me – empathy can be a magic calming pill for all involved.
3. Ask some questions – open ended ones.
Yep, instead of instantly reacting to your children in a negative way, why not ask them some clarifying questions. You can say to them:
- “Say more?” or
- “What about this situation is so upsetting to you?” or
- “How can I help you?”
Open-ended questions are a great way to calm things down, get more information from your children, and help you to respond in a more positive, helpful way. It takes some practice to do this, but once you get in the habit, it's a powerful parenting tool.
Reacting in a helpful way is one of the most challenging aspects of parenting, particularly when parenting children with ADHD. The usual tips of taking a deep breath, taking a parenting time out, or counting to 10 are not always successful or useful in the moment.
Changing our mindset to one that is more hopeful and less defensive is the first step to managing our reactions. Showing your children empathy in the form of acknowledging and validating their feelings will immediately remove the heat from any situation. It will allow your children to have their feelings, and to be heard and loved despite those feelings. Open-ended questions will help parents to gather more information from their children, and to clarify the situation at hand.
Get in the habit of using these three skills, and you will find that you feel better about your own responses and you will have an improved relationship with your children. When we manage our reactions in a challenging situation by utilizing a calm, healthy response, we walk away from our children with everyone feeling respected, loved … and still connected.
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