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Tuesday
Jun072011

The "Best" Parenting Technique

Every year, as a teacher, I needed to learn a new set of names as I got to know a new group of twenty children.  Because every child is a unique person, this was generally an easy task.  Within the first few days of school, I could match names with faces.  However, occasionally there were some children’s names that inexplicably got mixed up in my head.  I would invariably call Sarah Charlotte and call Charlotte Sarah.  I always apologized when this happened and allowed for the important opportunity to talk about how everyone makes mistakes, even adult teachers.  The children were always eager to help, and one year a young girl spoke up, “Ms. Haxby, I think that if you paused before saying someone’s name, you would get it correct.”   She was right and I’ve never forgotten her advice.

The technique of pausing before speaking is readily helpful in many areas of our life, but perhaps none as important as in parenting.  All of us have the best intentions for our work with our children.  When frustrated or even mad, we certainly still love our children and, when the anger or upset has subsided, we clearly know that we would never want to hurt them.  However, in the moment, it is hard to separate out our long-term goals and wishes for our children from the feelings their behavior is engendering in us right then.  The pause can help this happen.  Some folks talk about taking a breath or counting to 10, any kind of pause will work. 

It isn’t easy to learn a new technique.  Recognizing that there was a way to help me use the right name for the right child was a first step.  It took a number of failed attempts before I finally gave enough effort to remember to take that momentary pause.  Just like I didn’t really want to keep mixing up my students’ names, none of us really wants to keep getting into battles with our children.  A new technique can make things better. 

The next time you find yourself in a familiarly difficult situation with your child, take a pause.  Find out what happens.  Your child may be surprised: where is that familiar reaction?  Even if you’re not sure what your next step will be, try it out. 

You could use the pause to think about what you really want in that moment.  Perhaps, “When I come in to tell you that dinner is ready, I want you to say, ‘Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.’” OR “When you come home from school, I want you to hang up your coat.”  OR “When I say ‘Hi,’ I want you to say ‘Hi’ in response.”  OR “When you say, ‘You’re such a dork!’ my feelings get hurt.” 

Tell your child that you don’t want to keep yelling/pestering her (in whatever situation you choose) so you’re going to try to take a pause before responding to her.  When you fail, as you certainly will at first, let her know: “Oops, I forgot to take that pause, let me try again,” or “Oops, I forgot to take that pause, next time I’ll try harder to remember.”

An important side effect of trying to change your behavior is that your child gets to witness you working on change.  Most likely what is upsetting you requires her to make a change, one that she likely is resisting otherwise you wouldn’t be having this struggle.  By changing your behavior and making the first move, you demonstrate that you are willing to change, that change is doable, and that you recognize as well that “it takes two to tango.”

Often when we are in the midst of a struggle with our children, the situation may feel overwhelming and the dynamics may be quite complicated.  Giving yourself and your child the chance to discuss the dynamics and make some discoveries together is the needed solution.  But in the meantime, the technique of a pause requires no analysis or particular enlightenment.  You can start today.  Give it a try!

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