Parents who try very hard to be good listeners when their kids' behaviors scare them deserve a lot of credit. These are thinking, caring parents who know it's important to understand a behavior before reacting. This takes a huge amount of self-control and determination. It takes what I call Parental Intelligence -- an ability to ask yourself, "Why is this happening?" before reacting.
When your six-year-old has three temper tantrums in a day that last for more than 20 minutes each, it's frightening. When your twelve-year-old seems chronically irritated, it's disturbing. When your 16-year-old can't seem to get out of bed for a whole weekend, it's deeply distressing. These are times you know something is wrong and need to find a way to help your child talk to you, so you can begin to figure the puzzling behavior out. These are times when you know that if you overreact your child won't trust you. Then you'll lessen the chances to get to listen to him or her in a way that leads to some understanding.
So, how do you keep your screaming inside and keep your calm outside?
Here are 5 tips:
1. When the puzzling behavior occurs, step back mentally and become a good observer.
2. Notice when the behaviors occur and how often.
3. Look for patterns that might give you some clues to what's going on inside your child's mind that is being communicated by their external behavior.
4. Learn from your own feelings. If you feel like screaming, maybe your child does, too, and you need to learn what they feel like screaming about.
5. If you have a partner, support each other as you try to keep your cool in an effort to understand what's going on and why. The Benefits of a Calm Demeanor
Once your calm is felt by your child, it's sometimes startling how the child perceives your love and care. They know their behavior upsets you and sense your huge effort to be there for them. That's when they may begin to share that something is troubling them. They may not even know what it is that's so problematic. It may be in a visceral place that doesn't yet have words. But they perceive your wish to help and this is a beginning of their subsequent wish to share with you.
It's natural for parents to feel defensive and guilty when their kids act in ways they don't understand. It's easy to blame yourself for your own and your child's frailties. Self-doubt is part of parenting. But when you can shed your shame at being an imperfect parent, you can help your child shed his shame about whatever he's experiencing. Emotions are on the inside. Actions are on the outside. However, they are linked. As parents, we need to take time to decipher the messages concealed by actions.
Screaming pushes kids away. Calm draws them in and opens doors.
Laurie Hollman, PhD, is a psychoanalyst with an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, to be released Oct. 13. The book can be pre-ordered on Amazon for a 21% discount.