What If The Problem Is Me?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 107 · Duration: 00:16:31

What If The Problem Is Me?

What If The Problem Is Me_

What do you do when you’ve read a dozen books on how to parent your kids, and then realize that the real struggle is with your own behavior?  

If this month of May, we select your question for a podcast, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending The Parent-Teen Control Battle.

Today we’re hearing from Andrew.

Andrew writes:

I have really appreciated your podcast over the past few months. Thanks so much!

My own question is:

How can I manage my own feelings in reaction to my kids and their actions?  I have done some reading about “gentle parenting” and feel like I have some good tools in my belt—listening, empathizing, redirecting, etc.—but sometimes I just lose my cool at my kids while trying to teach them to manage their feelings. Oh the irony!

So many of the parenting books and resources I’ve found have been about giving tools toward the children, but I feel like I need to work on myself!

Thanks for being a fan and for your terrific question.  You are right. In trying to improve things with our kids, we end up changing our own thinking and behavior.  But how do we get ourselves to execute a chosen approach? After all, if it came naturally, we’d probably already be doing it.

Andrew in struggling to not lose your cool with your kids when they don’t cooperate, the first place for you to look is at your expectations and goals.

Is it your expectation that because you’re a good and generous dad, they should respect you and listen to you?  Is it your expectation that your kids should be able to listen and cooperate?  I’m guessing your kids are young, but regardless of their ages, and I hate to break this to you, but kids in general, often don’t listen or cooperate and it’s not about whether they love you or respect you. 

Kids in general, often don’t listen or cooperate and it’s not about whether they love you or respect you.Click To Tweet

It’s not about what you deserve or don’t deserve.  It’s not about whether you’re a good person or not.  And it’s not about whether they’re good kids or not.  It’s just that they haven’t learned to cooperate, and to some extent, none of us including children, teens, young adults, or adults always cooperate.  So your kids not cooperating is completely reasonable.

And I’ll add that it’s not your job to get your kids to cooperate.  It’s your job to support and teach your kids.  You want them, over time, to learn to manage their behavior so as they get older and become independent, they have a good working knowledge of how life works. 

So if you are using a “gentle parenting” approach because you think it will get them to do what you want them to do, gentle parenting or any other method isn’t going to do the job.  But if you want to teach your kids to manage their behavior, the parenting skills you’ve learned; listening, empathizing, redirecting, etc. are excellent skills for teaching kids behavioral management. 

I would add that along with those parenting tools, kids will need a “time out” or as my friend and colleague Joe Newman refers to it “a break”, from time to time, or maybe losing a privilege; all of course depending on their ages. But none of this is done well with a parent losing their cool.  By the way you can find Joe Newman at his website, raisinglions.com

So Andrew, if you find yourself losing it with your kids, and you want to change your behavior, start with your expectations and realize that kids get caught up in their own worlds and what’s of interest to them and what they want, is a hell of a lot more compelling to them than listening to us. 

Along the lines of having reasonable expectations is to know your kids.  Know their temperaments. Are they sensitive and easily hurt? Are they competitive or intense?  Are there any issues such as ADHD, learning or processing issues, sensory-motor integration, or are they just themselves?  Kids don’t need a diagnosis to be unique.  All kids have their own unique landscape of strengths and weaknesses.  Also, how was their day?  Having insight into all this can help you adjust your expectations.

Now let’s get back to “How do I change me?”  Okay, Andrew, now you’ve changed your expectations and you’re more patient because you realize that rounding up your kids to cooperate is kind of like herding cats.  Now let’s ask about your temperament?  How are you wired?  Is parenting the only place you allow yourself to lose your cool?  That would be unusual and if you have a tendency to get emotionally upset when things don’t go your way, how have you dealt with it in the past?  How did you learn to let go, keep your cool, and use your skills? 

Andrew, just like your kids, you and I are on our own learning curves; we have been since we were children and hopefully we always will be. Click To Tweet

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve been learning, changing and growing since you were born and now all you need to do is continue it.

Think about the various jobs you’ve had.  You got feedback from your bosses or just watched the cultural milieus and adjusted your behavior to fit in, to do the job the way you were expected to.  You changed in order to be successful. 

How about with your spouse, your friends, etc.?  You learned and changed and the act of changing was growth for you.  You needed to self-reflect, become more self-aware and that’s a maturing experience.  You found out that you had more potential, that you had more ability, and you had greater depth, patience, stamina than you knew you had.  Right Andrew?  One of the most important growth opportunities we all have is learning to not take things personally.  Whether it’s your kids not listening, or the jerk behind us tailgating us, we get to choose how we want to deal with it, but their behavior is not about us, and life is always challenging us to deal with it without taking it personally. 

Andrew, think of yourself as on your own path forward.  You’re always striving to be better today than you were yesterday; never perfect, never flawless, but on a learning and growing path forward.  If you accept the challenge, the change will become a normal part of your life.

Andrew, think of yourself as on your own path forward. You’re always striving to be better today than you were yesterday; never perfect, never flawless, but on a learning and growing path forward. Click To Tweet

My personal inspiration for change today comes from the NBA and the miraculous attitude and behavior change that Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors made.  Draymond is an incredibly intense player and in many ways, his intensity is his biggest asset.  Unfortunately, he was frequently awarded technical fouls for losing his temper at the referees.  His great play and intensity gave him a critical leadership role on the team.  But that role was often undermined by his negativity.  Very recently, Draymond stopped focusing on the negative and switched his attitude to supporting his teammates, letting go of what just happened, and focusing on what’s next. Draymond reports that he saw himself in the game videos sulking and acting negatively on the sidelines and was embarrassed by what he saw.  He also said he saw his two-year-old son start to imitate his behavior on the videos and he decided he needed to bring his energy in a new direction.  Andrew, if Draymond Green can change his attitude and behavior, so can you and I. 

Now, I’m willing to bet the farm that Draymond loses his temper again at some point.  He won’t be perfect and neither will you or I.  We’re not machines and life takes place in real time so circumstances will arise that catches us off guard and our old negative default behaviors will creep in.  That’s guaranteed.  That’s what makes this so much fun; it’s what makes life so interesting.  Life is unpredictable and so are we, but we can always strive to be our best selves.

Now a word of caution Andrew, as you move forward and put this into action in your family.  If you’ve been commonly “losing your cool” as you put it with your kids, you very well may have developed a pattern, we could call it a control battle, where you’ve essentially trained your kids to listen and behave when you lose it; and not to listen and cooperate until you do.  So the new way you are going to engage with them may seem initially ineffective and tempt you to go back to your old default position. 

To set yourself and your kids up for a successful transition out of the old pattern and into a new model, I suggest you talk with them about what’s been going on, what’s wrong with it, and what you hope to do differently.  Let me show you what that might look like.  And I’m going to assume you have 2 kids ages 5 and 7, and since they could be any other ages, you and our listeners can adjust this roleplay to be age appropriate.

"Kids I need to talk with you about something important.  You know how I get upset when you don’t listen and cooperate? How I lose my cool and yell.  I want you to know that I am very sorry about that.  It’s not right of me to get upset and yell when you are not cooperating.  I’m sure that I hurt your feelings too and I’m really sorry about that.  I love you both and don’t ever want to hurt your feelings.  I realize that it is not my job to make you cooperate.  It is only my job to tell you what we need to do, and cooperating is your job. "

If you are having a hard time cooperating and following directions, I can give you a time out or you can lose a privilege, but that’s all I should do.  Yelling is my bad behavior and I’m working on stopping my bad behavior.  You are both smart capable kids and are able to follow directions and cooperate when you put your minds to it.  But you are children and sometimes children just aren’t ready to listen and cooperate.  It doesn’t mean they’re bad it just means they aren’t cooperating.  So like I said when that happens, there will be a timeout or a lost privilege and that can help remind you to listen better.  But cooperating will be your job.  And it’s a job I know you can handle and you will get better and better at it as you go along."

Andrew, I hope this helps give you some hands-on guidance for the personal change you’re seeking.  One of the problems with reading advice is the author has one picture in their mind of what they are saying, and it translates very differently in the readers’ minds because they all have very different contexts for interpreting the message.  I give these audio role-plays so listeners can get a better idea of what I’m describing.  Better yet, when folks are in my office, it gives me the opportunity to help them learn not just the ideas I’m sharing, but the behaviors and the new ways of interacting that can bring the ideas to life.

 I think we all owe Andrew a debt of gratitude for reminding us that the more we try to change our kids, the more frustrated we will be.  Instead, we can embrace the beautiful challenge of parenting as the most profound opportunity for personal growth, that life will ever hand us.

If you’re enjoying and benefiting from HFC, please leave a review for me there on iTunes and for this month of May, if your question is selected for my podcast, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending the Parent Teen Control Battle.  And I really mean it when I say, please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.

Bye for now.


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