Parenting is a challenging journey, and moments of frustration can often lead us to default to yelling or resorting to punishment. However, there’s a transformative alternative – a step-by-step approach that replaces anger with understanding and punishment with positive reinforcement. In this post, I’ll share exactly what I do when faced with challenging parenting moments, offering a practical guide for fostering a positive and respectful environment.
The following describes Lia, my brilliant four-year-old, and me as we navigate a challenging situation. I told her it was time to stop playing, tidy up, and head to bed, but she refused. Not only did she refuse, she began yelling at me, telling me she didn’t love me, that I was not nice to her, to leave her alone, to get out of her room, and whatnot.
Sounds familiar? So here we go:
Step 1: Pause and Breathe
Anyone would expect me to explode. But I’d rather not because if I’m not calm, there’s no reason for Lia to calm down. Plus, exploding doesn’t feel nice, and I’m aware of how exploding makes me feel. So I take a breath, which is the first crucial step is to pause before reacting.
This moment of pause allows me to regain composure, remind myself what kind of a mother I want to be, and respond thoughtfully rather than impulsively. It’s a simple yet powerful technique to break the cycle of escalating tension.
Step 2: Identify and Acknowledge Emotions
Understanding that emotions drive behavior is key to this approach. Now, here’s the trick: there are two sets of emotions here, mine and Lia’s.
I take a moment to identify Lia’s emotions and acknowledge them. I say, “Wow, you really want to keep playing, and you don’t appreciate me telling you what to do, do you?” I always end with a question mark so Lia knows it’s a dialogue, not a monologue. This validates her feelings and demonstrates empathy, laying the foundation for effective communication.
This step is only complete once Lia can talk to me again, once she’s calm. I keep going with empathy until she feels seen and heard by me.
Then, I take a moment to understand my emotions, what led me to telling her it was time to head to be, what I felt following her words (nothing; I am the only one responsible for my feelings), and this leads me to the next step.
Step 3: Communicate Openly
Open communication means honest communication, accepting communication, and loving communication. Open communication does not mean fear, guilt, or shame.
Open communication is the bridge to resolving conflicts positively. I share my feelings with Lia and encourage her to express her emotions as well. I create a safe space for dialogue, allowing both of us to communicate our perspectives without judgment. This step fosters a sense of connection and understanding.
I share what I did today and how tired I am. I’d share how much I love her and want to lay in bed with her, hugging and cuddling her to sleep. Then I’ll ask her how she feels, “Aren’t you tired after x and y and z you did today?” And I listen actively.
This step allows us to connect again, and when we are, we can move on to the next step.
Step 4: Collaborative Problem-Solving
Instead of imposing solutions, I involve Lia in problem-solving. I ask for her input on finding mutually agreeable resolutions. This collaborative approach empowers her, teaching her to think critically and fostering a sense of responsibility for her actions.
I ask how long she needs to play or what she wants to play with for a few minutes before we go to bed. I ask her when I have time to accomplish what she needs. Would I have enough time to put Ilay to sleep? Would I have enough time to shower?
This way, she gets what she needs from me without feeling that I’m imposing anything upon her life and celebrating her autonomy.
But I am also setting a clear limit: whenever I’m done doing what we agreed upon, we will lead to bed. The secret is that it doesn’t feel like a boundary, and that’s precisely what makes it work.
Now, let’s just imagine that this doesn’t work, I head to the next step.
Step 5: Implement Natural Consequences
Rather than resorting to punitive measures, I share the natural consequences if we don’t sleep now. Note, I won’t say she’d be tired tomorrow (because I’m not a fortune teller). Instead, I’ll go back to what started this and the need behind it. If you don’t want to go to sleep right now, that’s okay, but I am tired, and I am going to sleep.
This allows her to experience the outcomes of her actions, which helps her learn responsibility and accountability. She doesn’t want to fall asleep alone; she wants me with her.
This approach encourages her to think about the consequences of their choices, promoting long-term behavior change.
And when we’re finally done, I head on to the next step.
Step 6: Reinforce Positive Behavior
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for shaping behavior.
Whenever Lia shows cooperation, kindness, or responsibility, I acknowledge and celebrate her. Positive reinforcement builds a foundation for good behavior, reinforcing that positive actions lead to positive outcomes.
“Thank you so much for opening up and discussing with me. I love it when we can reach agreements that work for both of us!”
Yelling and punishment may provide short-term compliance, but they often come at the cost of damaging the parent-child relationship. By following these step-by-step strategies, you, too, can transform challenging moments into opportunities for connection, understanding, and growth.
Remember, parenting is a constant learning journey, and embracing these positive approaches sets the stage for a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with your children.
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Oh, and by the way, this is the exact process Jacky goes through after having a similar disagreement with his Mom. In this book, Jacky is the one coming up with the Language of YES and teaching it to his Mom. Your kids would love it. Get it by clicking the image below: