Parenting is a never-ending maze of phases. You finally get a good handle on things and – wham! – the kids throw another curve ball at you. Sometimes the new challenge is easy to figure out. Other times, it bring us to our knees, full of frustration and helplessness. Those times…well…they suck, don’t they?
The latest phase in our house is the sass-mouth-I’m-too-cool-to-be-respectful phase, which my 5-year-old is trying on for size. This phase actually hasn’t gotten us too out of whack because I realized pretty quickly this needed to be nipped in the bud. It also didn’t take long to figure out that intentional ignoring and gentle reminders aren’t enough to motivate better choices right now. I tried that for a couple of weeks and it didn’t get us anywhere.
And so I am working my way through the steps – the steps I take each time, consciously or not, when I hit a rough patch with one of the boys. This isn’t about handling that one bad moment. It is about figuring out how to make them fewer and farther between, when they suddenly seem to be happening a lot. Maybe you’re having a rough patch, too. Give these five steps a try.
1. Calm Down
Calming down is a prerequisite to doing anything remotely productive about a bad situation – not only in the moment, but in order to move on to the next step. The more emotional we are, the less able we are to think reasonably. To get a handle on the situation, we need that amped-up, cortisol-fueled tension in our bodies to disappear.
Calming down might mean shutting ourselves in the bedroom, closing our eyes, and focusing on our breathing for a few minutes. It might mean a power walk around the block or just driving for a while. It might mean waiting until tomorrow, well after the moment has passed. Before you try to problem solve, relax and clear your head.
2. Clarify the Problem
Clarifying the problem means digging a little deeper and really understanding what is going on. How can you do this?
- Sometimes talking with a friend or family member can help us get perspective on what is happening and why.
- Try sequencing one particularly challenging incident – one that is a good example of what typically happens. Sequencing is writing out each step of what happened, in detail. “This happened, then this, then this.” It can help with figuring out where you might be able to respond differently or what the triggers might be that escalate the situation.
- Think about the circumstances under which things go well, or what helps to get things back on track. Maybe you can you use these positives to your advantage to come up with a plan.
3. Prevention First
Prevention is about managing the “trigger” – those circumstances that set the stage for things to fall apart. It is also about making sure our expectations are clear and our kids know what they are.
A common trigger is an over-tired, overwhelmed parent, so just taking care of ourselves – a good night’s sleep, making sure we’ve eaten, keeping our “to-do” lists manageable – can be a critical part of prevention! Another preventive measure is making sure our kids are well-rested and well-fed.
In the case of my kiddo’s sass-mouth phase, I’ve noticed it’s worse when he is over-tired (read: he didn’t nap) and when he is watching certain tv shows. Prevention means ensuring he gets his sleep and enforcing our rules about what shows are and aren’t appropriate, including making sure he isn’t watching them at friend’s houses.
4. Come Up With A Plan
While prevention is about making it less likely the challenging behavior will occur, the plan is what you’ll do when it does.
Each time I go through these steps – for whatever challenging phase we’re in – I find that once I have a clear plan, I am sooooo much better able to keep my own emotions in check and respond effectively as a mom. Having a clear plan makes a world of difference.
Where to go for help developing a plan? Friends, preschool teachers, books, and of course the good ol’ internet are full of ideas and resources for all kinds of parenting challenges.
5. Give It A Chance
Sometimes it takes a little time to see if a new approach is working. Give it a few days and, if it doesn’t seem to be helping, tweak it or come up with a new plan.