Dear Coach Deborah,
My 7-year-old has been acting out recently. And although that may be normal, the new thing is that this child will not take responsibility for their behavior. They blame a younger sibling, me, even the dog. This usually happens if something is accidentally broken, [or when] sneaking snacks or playing video games when they aren’t supposed to. Generally, my response is to yell because I am so frustrated. On the one hand, I am hoping it’s just a phase, on the other, I am concerned that this behavior could create a pattern that may worsen with time. How can I stop the behavior without constantly yelling?
Signed, Frustrated Mama
Dear Frustrated Mama,
When our children are acting out it can be difficult to respond with a calm demeanor. And although we know that may be best, some days life and parenting collide and it’s just hard. But having a few tools in our parenting chest before an issue arises can help us feel more prepared. And let’s face it, when there’s a lot of yelling, no one feels good, not us or them. Try these tips instead.
Before responding to your child’s behavior, check in with yourself. Is there something about their behavior that’s triggered you? Has it been a particularly stressful day? Were you already at your wits’ end even before this incident? Become curious about what’s really going on.
Our children will meet us with the same energy we are giving, so stay in control. And if you’ve already lost it, reclaim it. Here are a few ways to do that:
Before responding, wait. Often our initial response will not show us in the best light. So count to 10 silently, take a few deep breaths or just pause before saying anything at all. A few moments of silence can change the trajectory of this encounter.
Use a calm or even quiet voice to respond. I knew a mom who would purposely whisper when responding in moments like this. It served as a reminder to her not to yell and her children immediately quieted down to be able to hear what she had to say.
After this situation is resolved, ask yourself a few key questions. How do I relax? What are some ways that I can manage stress before it gets to the boiling point? Am I practicing self-care on a regular basis? And if so, how? How can my partner assist in moments that feel overwhelming for me? Have I communicated that?
Stress is one of those things that we will probably never live without. However, we can determine how to use it to our advantage and allow it to highlight areas we may be neglecting. The better care you take of yourself, the more calmly you can respond to the things that are happening around you. In fact, self-care may involve asking for the support you need and then stepping back and allowing others to handle it.
Do you have a parenting question or concern? Looking for support? Submit your question to Coach Deborah.