Help for parents who struggle to manage their reactivity to kids’ behaviour

2 February 2016

Help for parents who struggle to manage their reactivity to kids’ behaviour

  • Behaviour
by Michael Grose

There’s one essential skill that’s absolutely paramount for parent effectiveness but it’s overlooked in most parenting books and articles.

That is, the ability to manage your reactivity.

Ever had your best parenting intentions hijacked by your emotions?

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

You know you should stay calm in the face of a young child’s tantrum but you simply blow your top instead.

You know you should just let your teenage son’s smart aleck, patience-testing comments go but you can’t help giving him a piece of your mind instead.

You know the best response to low-level, but annoying, sibling bickering is to simply ignore it, but your anger gets the best of you and you yell…just like your kids.

You can learn all the positive parenting strategies you want but none will be effective until you figure out a way to manage and control your emotional reaction to kids’ misbehaviour.

Yes, we get tired but that’s no excuse for our inability to manage our reactions. Tiredness and fatigue reveals our default skill levels. Sportspeople, like parents, always revert to their base skill levels when they get tired. That’s why elite sportspeople keep practising basic skills so that they can still execute them well under pressure and fatigue.

So how can you better manage your reactivity?

It all starts with our breathing!

Yep, manage your breathing and you then start to manage your thinking and your feelings.

Breathing is the only visceral or physical process that can change your thinking.

But remembering to take some breaths can be a feat in itself.

First, you need to stop yourself from speaking or acting impulsively. Yes, STOP!

Step away from the situation that causes you stress. That step may be tiny – it maybe a look away, a small movement away from a tantrum-throwing child, or a taunting teen. But the movement away can be enough to stop you from reacting and give you the necessary space for you to take some big nasal, belly breaths! It’s the breathing that changes your state. It’s the stopping and breathing that needs to become your default behaviour whenever you experience stress. This not only buys you thinking time, but also helps you change your emotional state enough that you can bring yourself back from the edge of losing your cool. You can practise this self-management technique at work, in the community, as well as at home.

The ability to manage your reactions is the skill that makes all the other parenting and personal skills happen. It’s the skill that will make you more effective as leader (as the leader in any group is the person who remains calm when a crisis hits); more effective as a manager and more effective in all your relationships including those you have with your kids. Yet, it’s the skill that few people think about and very few practise.

I teach it as part of my Parent Well with the Meta-Moment online course.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s an award-winning speaker and the author of 12 books for parents including Spoonfed Generation, and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. Michael is a former teacher with 15 years experience, and has 30 years experience in parenting education. He also holds a Master of Educational Studies from Monash University specialising in parenting education.