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SALT LAKE CITY — In this second part of her series on parenting, Coach Kim gives some advice on controlling our emotions and reactions so we can create more peaceful relationships.
I have a preteen who is struggling with school and I want to learn how to better communicate with him so we can have peace and love in our relationship now and in the coming years. I realize that I get upset when he doesn't get his work done because I have a fear of him failing and of not being a good parent. What else can I do to stop reacting badly when I get triggered? What else can I do to build a more peaceful relationship with him?
There are four things you must do to get your reacting (temper, panic and anxiety) under control so you can be a better parent.
- Recognize your ego issues and what triggers (scares) you. As a parent it is really hard not to come from a space of ego, superiority, control or neediness when it comes to our children, but when we get attached to preserving our ego or our expectations, the relationship will always suffer. There are four types of ego problems explained in the book “The Conscious Parent” by Shefali Tsabary, which can help you to see what your fear issues are about. They are:
- Attachment to Image — Where your sense of self-worth has become tangled up in your child’s behavior and how you look to others.
- Attachment to Perfection — Where you have projected your fear of not being good enough onto your child, who must be nearly perfect to make you feel safe.
- Attachment to Conformity — Where your sense of safety comes from fitting in and being the same as or fitting in with other people.
- Attachment to Control — Where you must have control over your child and your life to feel safe. This means you have fear of loss a lot of the time.
Take a minute and own which of these subconsciously influence your fears and reactions to your children. Being willing to admit an ego or fear problem is the first step to fixing it.
Understand that you have fears around failure and loss that trigger you and produce reactive bad behavior — and you would be dealing with these issues whether your child was in your life or not. This means your child cannot be blamed for your anger, frustration, anxiety and fear of looking bad or losing control. Your emotions and bad behavior (which do show up when your child triggers you) are not really about them. These situations with your child are just showing you your issues so you can work on them.
Tsabary said, “Through our children we get orchestra seats to the complex theatrics of our own immaturity. They awaken our unresolved emotional issues from our childhood. Nevertheless, because our children are vulnerable and mostly powerless, we feel free to blame them for our reactivity.”
We must stop doing this and grow up, which leads us to the next step…
- Sit with your emotions instead of reacting to them. The next time you get triggered, instead of reacting, take some time and sit with what you are feeling. Is it anxiety, fear, loss of control, anger, a feeling of being disrespected or looked down on, is it about feeling unimportant, stupid or a feeling of failure? Understand these feelings are not about your child. These are emotions and sensitivities that existed inside you already. They are coming from your unresolved life experiences. Sit quietly and experience what you are feeling and ask yourself some questions like: Where does this fear come from? How often do I experience this? What is it really about? If you don’t stop, slow down and think through what you are feeling and why, you will probably keep reacting emotionally and projecting or blaming your emotions on your child. When you do this your child loses respect for you and this only adds to the problem.
- Don’t make their behavior personal and watch your interpretations. It is a basic tendency of human nature that you make everything about you. This is a problem because, most of the time, other people’s behavior has very little to do with you. When your child lashes out at you, it is most likely about anger they are feeling about their life (you are the target of it in this moment), but it’s not really about you. The worst thing you can do take it as a personal attack and lash back. That would be reactive and immature. What your child needs in that moment is for you to “take yourself out of the equation” as Tsabary puts it and say, “Are you OK? Tell me about your frustrations and why you’re upset.” And then sit back and listen and let them vent it all out — without reacting or making it about you and your emotions. Also remember that nothing means anything until you start applying interpretation to it. A situation just is — it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good parent, your child hates you, or anything else. It is nothing more than what it is — your child is feeling emotions right now, which could lead to good lessons for both of you — nothing more. Tsabary says, “All dysfunction involves our deeply personalized interpretations of the events around us.” To stop creating interpretations you must take your thoughts less seriously and even if possible think about them less. Just let them be what they are. Don’t add to a negative situation by overthinking it and applying meaning that doesn’t belong.
- See everything as it is — as a perfect lesson. Buddha says all our suffering comes from our resistance to “what is.” And we suffer a lot when we wish what is was something else! It is not easy to learn to accept things as they are without resistance and understand they are “this” way for a reason. The classroom of life (we call the universe) only delivers perfect lessons to help you grow and become stronger, wiser and more loving. It doesn’t make mistakes and I promise whatever situation is showing up right now in your life, with your children, spouse, co-workers or friends, it is here for a reason to teach you something important. Your job is to stop wishing it wasn’t here and take the time to figure out the lesson — for you. Stop trying to fix your child and make sure they learn the lesson. Your job is to learn yours.
Whenever someone attacks or offends you, you get to decide is it a cut through water, which is immediately gone, a cut through sand, which might be gone by tomorrow, or a cut through stone, which will be there for decades. I recommend being water.
Learning to live with calm acceptance of situations, lovingly and calmly working through emotions to create what you want, without attachment to the outcome, because you trust the process of life — this will create the mature, loving, peaceful relationship you want with your son. Just keep working on controlling yourself.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular coach and speaker.