Picture this… you pick your child up from school and they are a bit quiet and non responsive to your normal chit chat in the car and even though you ask them if anything is wrong you are assured that nothing is wrong. Throughout the afternoon and evening you get the odd snappy response from your child and their acceptance of their sibling, chores and home work seems to be a lot less today and finally they snap and give you an ear full… What do you do… well most people respond with anger in return, you tell them off, you put them in time out and you feel a bit outraged at being spoken to like that!
The mood is soured for the rest of the evening… your partner gets home, hears about it and goes to talk to them about respect and responsibility and will not listen to excuses!
This has got to be fairly typical of most households right? The mistake parents make with this response is that you’ve just dealt with the symptoms and not the underlying problem… because right back where it started and all the way through, your child was showing you something was wrong… and a crucial piece of the information may have saved you from treating just the symptoms and missing the whole point! And that is…
It’s not about you!
What do I mean by that? When a child (or anyone really) does something, says something or looks at you in that way and you immediately respond with anger or fear and then you either come out fighting or run away… Well I’m here to tell you that what your that person did was not about you… ever. You own your reaction to that trigger but the initial behaviour was not actually about you!
Let’s look at what is going on from both sides … child and parent.
Children (& people) react because of an unmet need
Even if they seem like they are rebelling like crazy to your reasonable demands that they stop swinging off the clothes line and jumping on the dog.. Their behaviour is actually a symptom of an underlying need!
From my own personal experience… I had a father who worked with fear based parenting, and he did it well. I did not want to make him mad! It resulted in getting hit and manhandled (it was the only way he knew). Despite this fear, I still turned into a rebellious teenager and snuck out of windows and did other things that would worry the heck out of him and my mother. The fear of his reaction was still not enough for me to stop my behaviour. I had a greater need… something that was bigger than the fear of my father’s wrath! If my parents had of worked on that, found out what was driving my behaviour, then they would have been able to address that and resolve it!
I know this because I used the same principle when working with teenagers as a counsellor. I didn’t judge their behaviour, I used it as a way of exploring and finding the underlying cause. Addressing the need resolved the behaviour… every… single… time!
Every single moment of the day we are addressing our needs and we do this from birth to death. And as I said, some needs out weigh others for example… A mum who spends all of her time tending to her children’s needs is out weighing the need for sometime for herself… A child who continues to do what you’ve repeatedly told them not to do is choosing the need of being independent and in control of their own life over being loved and accepted in that moment.
All of our behaviour is based on a need, some simple and easy to pick (I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m scared) and others more complex (I need you to approve of me, I need to know that I’m good enough, I need to win this game so my dad will make a big deal of me).
When our children or when we do something that another doesn’t approve of it’s not because we or they thought things through and realised the consequences and did it anyway. It’s because it fulfilled a need that conflicted with the yours. Like…hitting their brother makes them feel more in control when he keeps taking his toys… A teenage girl drinking with her friends makes her feel accepted and a part of the group. Being obsessively focused on playing an instrument to the detriment of all else gives a person an escape from the reality of their life.
Conversely this theory also works for the positive also! Compliments are never about you… When someone says you are good at something or look good that’s not about you either. It’s about the other person’s need to be as good, look as good as you do at this moment or the need to make you feel good which gives them a feel good feeling also. Just think about that…
Think about the last time you received a compliment… and who the complimenter was… What was behind the compliment? What need did they seek to meet within themselves by complimenting you?
So how does this knowledge help you?
If you accept that all behaviour, good and bad, has a need associated with it you now have a choice… You can choose to treat the symptom (the problem behaviour) or you can look for and treat the cause.
If your car was making weird noises and pulling to the left as you drive would you yell at it, kick it and pull it forcefully over to the centre because it’s taking you off the road and scaring you? Or… Do you look to check the tyres or have a closer look under the car to see if their’s anything obvious and remember you hit a curb hard yesterday?
Deciphering your children (or the other’s) behaviour is the same… look closer… Work out the need behind it and treat that rather than respond to the symptom (the behaviour). You’ll get longer term results with less effort in the long run!
Seek first to understand before responding and you will be a more effective parent and avoid the biggest mistake parents make. It also strengthens you relationship and the more you do it, the quicker the response in the other to review their behaviour.
Let’s try it with an example:
You’re very tired from work and you want to sit down and rest for a while and watch the news. You’re five year old boy keeps pestering you to play with him. He keeps pulling your arm, getting up into your lap and blocking your view. Playing with him is the last thing you feel like doing.. Just imagine this for a moment…
What would your reaction be to this normally?
What would you say and do
Would their be peace after you said it?
Would you feel better?
Would he feel better?
OK let’s try another one.. You’ve made something you feel is going to be delicious and enjoyed by your children and partner… It’s a beautiful lasagna. You’ve spent all afternoon on it and took into consideration your little girl’s aversion to red meat and have hidden it well in the sauce. You know she will eat spaghetti as long as the sauce is thick and rich in tomatoes. You sit down with a bit of pride and hope. Your little girl takes one look at it and announces that she doesn’t like it. She took 1 second to come to this conclusion and announced it loudly and starts to make a fuss. What would your reaction be to this one?
This is pretty common in most house holds and can be avoided by understanding what your child’s needs are and have them along on the journey. My daughter was this little girl… very picky and fussy… It hurt every time she rejected my dinner as it felt like she was rejecting me.
Sometimes I did slip and fell into the mistake parents make and made it personal. However, when we did talk about how it felt when she said negative things about the food before her, if I listened to her point of view with an open mind, she was more willing to hear what I had to say. In the end I brought her along with me when I made food decisions, we negotiated steps up in her food vocabulary, she grew to like many different foods and I can take her to anyone’s house or restaurant without a worry.
If I had chosen to react badly and take it personally her response I would have had endless fights and eventually may have even caved into her demands. Instead I worked out what her need was, which was to be in control of what she was putting into her mouth and she also understood my need to give her a healthy diet which involved giving her variety.
So now you understand this, to practice you need to be committed to choosing to react differently to your kids behaviour. Sometimes this can be easy and sometimes more difficult (especially when you’re tired or emotional already). Usually, what get’s in the way of you being able to look at things with a level head is your inner gremlin! The voice in your head urging you on to react in a negative way because it has made it personal! If this sounds like you… then next week I’ll help you to over come that one…
But this week… practice your ability to get curious instead of reacting… if you struggle with this task… consider having a session with me to help you overcome your inner gremlin from getting in the way!