If there’s something I hear most from parents, it is their frustration at their unmotivated teens, esp their boys.
It is very interesting to note that motivation is not something we inculcate in our children. Like creativity, motivation is actually something we and our children are born with! (Just watch how fast a baby crawls towards his favourite toy!)
Unfortunately, along the way as our children grow up, we parents start to put up a lot of boundaries. We start dictating what they need to do. We start telling them a lot “no”s. And research shows that boys tend to get more “no”s than their female counterparts.
The more persistent the child, the more vehement our “NO!” gets and the more demoralised the child becomes. For every “no” a child receives, a part of him is stifled. Of course I’m not saying we cannot say no to our children. But if our kids receive mostly “no”s for every request they make, they start to realise they have no say in their lives and they STOP to think about things they want to do or brew up interesting ideas they have or activities they want to pursue. THAT is how we kill BOTH their creativity and their motivation. Why motivation? Because they are no longer doing things they enjoy or want to. Because they are doing things that we tell them to do ALL THE TIME. And we know how extremely difficult it is to stay motivated doing something that someone else tells us to do.
Hence if we want our children, esp our boys, to be motivated, give them room to pursue their interest. Give them back control over their lives. The more control they have over their lives, the more motivated they would become.
Slowly but surely, we will see the spark of motivation and creativity rekindled in their eyes.
The school holidays are upon us. Do give as much time as possible for your children to chill, play and do what they like. It’s a time for them to recharge so they can fill THEIR cups and have room to find motivation within themselves.
I had been craving for a chocolate cheesecake for quite some time. So the day before Mother’s Day, I told my teens that I would like to have a chocolate cheesecake to celebrate Mother’s Day. I even found a simple no-bake recipe and sent it to them. (I have realised that subtlety is frequently lost on teens. I need to be direct and specific to get what I want.)
Thankfully, they sprung into action and got busy with the cheesecake. After putting the cake together, they left it in the fridge to chill overnight, in preparation for Mother’s Day celebration.
When my teens served it after dinner the next day, my 17-year old exclaimed, “That went well!” and my 14-year-old agreed with her brother. I added, “Wow, that looks great!” But my little 6-year-old took one look at it and said, “That didn’t turn out well.”
My 14-year-old took offense at that. “What do you mean it didn’t turn out well?” she asked incredulously.
And the evening went downhill after that. Tears flowed because the 14-year-old was hurt by her sister’s critical remark while the 6-year-old was upset that her sister had challenged her opinion.
Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong?
Well, in my opinion, both were wrong.
My littlest one had lacked tact in her comments and had hurt her sister. My teen girl was too thin-skinned to take a critical remark despite getting good comments from her brother and me.
Yet at the same time, both were right!
My 6-year-old had probably based her impression of how the cake would look from what she had seen from the online recipe. THAT cake had frosting and strawberries as well as chocolate drizzle on it. So comparing THAT with the decoration-free cake made by her siblings, it would be fair to say the actual cake “didn’t turn out well”.
Similarly, my 14-year-old was right to insist the cake had turned out well because the teens had not intended to frost the cake, nor did they manage to buy strawberries to adorn the cake. They had intended to present a plain chocolate cheesecake and, as far as that went, the cake turned out really good!
What Caused This Conflict?
1) Expectations Both my 14-year-old and 6-year-old had different expectations as illustrated above. And because of that difference, there was disagreement.
2) Focus My 6-year-old was focused on how pretty the cake should look instead of focusing on the effort that her siblings had put in to make the cake on short notice. My 14-year-old was focused on the negative comment from her younger sister instead of the positive comments from her mother, the recipient of the cake, and her older brother.
3) Carried Over Emotion Prior to making the cake, my 14-year-old was, as usual, playing “mom” to her little sister, correcting the little one, telling her what to do, etc. Understandably, that did not go down well with the little one. So she harboured some animosity towards her older sister. When presented with an opportunity to hurt with a negative comment, she grabbed it whole-heartedly.
Was she right to do so? No. But was it understandable why she did it? Yes.
How to Resolve This?
As with all conflict, we can always choose the punitive way or the loving way. Of course, there is a third choice, which is to ignore it. Knowing me, I chose the loving way. But for the sake of understanding, let us look at the impact or consequences of the other ways as well.
a) The Punitive Way If I had chosen to reprimand the girls for their behaviour, I would have only focused on how they were wrong, that one was rude and the other was too thin-skinned. Both of them would have felt invalidated. The 6-year-old would learn it didn’t pay to be honest. The 14-year-old would learn it was not ok to feel hurt by hurtful comments from someone whom she loves dearly.
Obviously, those were not the lessons I wanted my girls to get out of this conflict.
Moreover, if I had opted for the punitive way, both would feel I was unfair, that I had obviously ignored the “wrong” done by the other party. That would breed their resentment towards me. Both would feel I was siding with the other party.
2) Ignore It If I had chosen to ignore it, I would be tacitly agreeing with what both were doing. They would both stand firm that they were right and the other party was wrong. And that would breed resentment towards the other for the perceived attack.
Furthermore, they would be upset with me for not putting the other person right. Since I did not reprimand them, they must be right, which means the other person was in the wrong. And, by their logic, if the other person were wrong, then I, as Mom, must correct that person. If I kept quiet, then I would also be in the wrong! And their resentment towards me would grow.
Obviously, breeding resentment was not one of my goals in building strong relationships within the family.
3) The Loving Way What is the “loving” way? To me, it is one where we help one another see others’ perspectives so they can each can agree or come to the conclusion the mistakes they have made.
This was what I did to resolve their conflict.
I started by telling my 6-year-old that I thought the cake turned out really well because it was something her siblings had whipped up on short notice. I agreed with her it would have looked nicer if her siblings had had time and the frosting and strawberries to decorate the cake, but because they didn’t, the cake was as great as it could have looked. More importantly, it was the tastiest chocolate cheesecake I had ever had. Hence, to me, the cake was a huge success.
With that, my 14-year-old was able to understand the “standard” her sister was using when she had made that hurtful comment. It helped to somewhat soothe how she had felt.
To help diffuse the tense situation further, I turned to my 14-year-old, looked her in the eye and told her all I wanted was a plain chocolate cheesecake and I got my wish. To me, the cake was a success because it was also extremely tasty. I added that she could choose to focus on what her little sister had said about the cake, or what her brother and I, the recipient of her gift, had felt about the cake. I acknowledged that she had felt hurt because she loved her sister dearly and the latter’s comments mattered to her. I also added that I agreed with her that the little one could have been more tactful in her comment but seeing that she was but a 6-year-old, tact would be a difficult quality for her to possess. Hence, all of us needed to work harder to model tact for her to learn.
That helped my 14-year-old recalibrate what she could choose to hear: the praises or the criticism. She realised her cake WAS a success (she had said so herself before her sister’s negative comment) and it did not matter what her sister had said. It also helped her realise that our every comment to one another was an opportunity to model tact and if she wanted tact from her sister, she needed to speak with tact as well.
As for the little one, she realised she was the “odd-one-out” thinking the cake was not a success. It also helped her see she was being tactless in her comment and that she still had lots of room to learn how to be tactful.
Doing what I did helped my girls reflect what they could each improve upon. They did not feel “invalidated” as their “erroneous ways” were based on understandable reasons. But they knew what they could work on to become better and more loving towards each other. More importantly, they understood each other slightly better as a result of this conflict resolution.
Why Is This Important?
This is but a typical small conflict within any family. Some may feel it’s not something worth blogging about. But what triggered me to write about it was I realised the way we parents handle any conflict amongst our children will make a huge difference on how everyone feels about everyone.
If we handle conflicts amongst the children in the punitive way, not only would that breed resentment in the children towards one other, it would also lead to our children resenting us, the parents, for being unfair!
The same applies if we choose to ignore the conflicts. By not doing anything about something that we know about that is wrong, we are actually communicating something. We are actually silently screaming to our kids, “IT’S OK! YOU ARE RIGHT! CARRY ON!” Like the punitive way, our children will resent one another and us because they don’t see us correcting the other party.
By choosing to resolve conflicts lovingly, we can help everyone see different perspectives. We help our children develop empathy. With time and constant modeling from us, they will grow to develop the ability to see the “bigger” picture.
And if I may add, it trains us to go beyond their conflict and allows us the breathing space decode their behaviour instead. We stop seeing our children as being naughty or rude or overly sensitive. We see them as children who have room for growth and development. We begin to accept them as children who are reacting based on their understanding and capability to control themselves. And THAT helps us regulate OUR blood pressure so we will not get triggered easily by their conflicts. That, in turn, allows us to discipline and guide our children with patience and love.
Was that the end of the episode? No, not really.
My 14-year-old came to me at bedtime and had a long chat with me about how she had felt about her sister’s comment. So I reiterated everything I had said earlier. I also told her that we were all one another’s teachers.
Whenever someone triggers us, there is something we need to learn from there. We can go beyond the incident and look deeper into why the other person is doing what he/she is doing. When we do that, we can grow our empathy. OR we can look deeper into ourselves and see why we react the way we do thereby growing our self-awareness. OR we can do both and grow even faster!
In her case, the reason why she felt so hurt was because of her need to be perfect. That is why even though the majority of us had told her the cake was successful, she only heard the negative comment and took that to heart instead. Hence for her, her lesson could be she needed to feel she was good enough. Even if there were room for improvement, she was good enough at that point in time with what she knew and what she had. The thing is this. Nobody is perfect. That is a fact. The sooner she acknowledges she is NOT perfect and can never be, the more she will be open and less offended when someone shows her where she can improve. If anything, she needs to be grateful to that person for helping her become a better person!
I am extremely grateful to have had that conversation with her because every time I “teach” that, I remind myself not to be prickly when someone criticises me. Yes, I too suffer from the syndrome of “being Ms Perfect”. And I suspect most people suffer the same…
What about my 6-year-old? Well, I had a conversation with her the next day sharing with her how much her sister loved her and how her comment had hurt her sister. Then I asked her how would she feel if she had put in a lot of effort making something and someone just told her, “It didn’t turn out well.” She replied, “Sad.” I followed up with my favourite question, “What do you think you need to do now?”
And she went and gave her sister a hug and said, “I am sorry.” And her sister replied, “It’s ok. I love you.”
I love teaching with love. No accusations, no blaming, no tears.
Read more about improving relationships between siblings:
I have been having very interesting conversations with my 14-year-old recently.
Last night, she was commenting about myopia. You see, she has been saying she needs glasses for a while and recently she went to the optometrist.
C: You know mom, I can’t imagine how people who need glasses function without glasses. My prescription is only 75 and 100 degrees. Yet I have so much difficulty seeing the bus numbers without glasses. I can’t imagine how it is like for someone who has a prescription of more than 400 degrees and does not have glasses.
Me: Well, I have a prescription of more than 400 degrees and I can’t function without my glasses. I thought you knew that. That’s why I always say I need my glasses to find my glasses. I can’t see without my glasses.
C: I knew you need glasses and without them you can’t see. But I never thought about how that felt, or how blurry things would be for you without your glasses. When the optometrist put the glasses on for me and I went out of the shop to look around, suddenly everything looked clear. And when I removed them, I realised how blur things have been. If it has been so blur for me, I can’t imagine how it is for you or anyone who has worse eyesight than me. I didn’t understand how it was like to NOT be able to see. But now, I have a better idea of how it is like for you.
With that comment of hers, a light bulb came on for me.
Lesson for Me
My dear C, you have no idea how important a lesson you have taught me, AGAIN.
How often have I known, yet NOT KNOWN, how difficult things are for my children?
When they struggle to stay focused, I know it is because their more mature nucleus accumbens (the pleasure-seeking centre of their brain) is driving their thoughts and actions and that their pre-frontal cortex (the logical decision making centre of their brain) is not quite mature yet to hold their goal in view.
But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to focus because I still get impatient and judgmental when they are distracted.
Likewise, when they lose their temper, I know that, for my teens, it is because of the fluctuations of hormones in their bodies making control difficult, or, for my little one, that it is because she is really tired/hungry etc.
But I don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to control their temper because sometimes I still get triggered when they “lose” it.
And there are parents whose children are hyperactive, or depressed, or perfectionists, or have sensory sensitivities, or a zillion other challenges. How WELL do most parents REALLY know the struggles their children go through?
Most times, we may feel “if only the kids would try harder…”, or worse, “they are leading us by our noses, manipulating us,” etc. I know I have been guilty of that.
If we really KNOW how our children feel and how they struggle, we will not have those thoughts at all.
The truth is we don’t REALLY know how hard it is for them to function “normally” unless we have the same condition as they do. That is why we tend to be more critical and impatient, less sympathetic and loving.
Unfortunately, that does not help our children. Our lack of empathy and lacklustre support makes it even harder for them to function normally.
So while I may “know” my children are having a tough time, and that they are doing their best, I still need to do the following:
remember I don’t REALLY KNOW how awful they feel or how hard they are struggling,
remind myself to take my 2 deep breaths,
strike down my fear that I have lost control over them,
tap into my unconditional love for them, and
support them when they falter.
Once again, I am grateful to C for the insight she has given me. May her insight help you decode your children so you can help them overcome whatever challenges they have as well.
It’s personal only if we decide to make it personal.
It has been a rather crazy week this week. I had had a super full load of work to get done, plus a talk to prepare for. Unfortunately, my little 6-year-old came down with the flu on Sunday. She had been a real trooper, resting, sleeping and leaving me practically very much alone for a few days to do my work because she knew I was busy.
But by Wednesday, her love tank was empty. She wouldn’t let me go. She was only content when she was in my arms. When I attempted to reach for my phone or laptop to do some work while craddling her, she would grab hold of my wandering hand and place it firmly against her face.
And so I savoured the moments and focused my 100% attention on her until she fell in a deep sleep and I was able to snap this photo.
Soon after, she stirred and pulled my hand back to her and we stayed in that position for a few hours.
By Friday, she was well enough to go to school. She had been looking forward to seeing her classmates and teachers and it was a happy occasion as we headed towards school.
My husband had started the “tradition” of bringing iced water for her when picking her up from school because it’s hot in the afternoons. But on Friday, I did not bring any iced water when I went to pick her up as she was still having a cough.
When she realised there was no cold water, she stomped the whole way back. And when she reached home, she threw herself on the sofa and cried as if the world had let her down. She practically had a meltdown.
I had 3 options.
One was to be angry and upset that she was ungrateful, that I too had walked in the hot sun to go pick her up AND bring her home. (Guess how I knew of this option?)
Two was to ignore her and leave her alone (give her a time out).
Three was to show her love and compassion.
Truth be told, I felt anger bubbling. I felt she was ungrateful. I feared she was becoming self-entitled. And boy was I tempted to leave her and go get a glass of cold water for myself!
But in the end, I took my 2 deep breaths and I chose love and compassion.
I bent over her and asked if she wanted me to cuddle her. She put her arms around my neck, all the while still crying. I took that as a “yes” and I craddled her.
After a while, she started kicking and writhing in frustration. So I asked if she would like me to put her down. She hugged me tighter and I took that as a “no”. So I just held her while she kicked and writhed and cried. After 25 minutes, she finally calmed down. I told her a joke, she laughed and that was the end of it.
She had let all her “angries” and stress out. I didn’t take any of it personally. We both emerged fr the “ordeal” happy and deeply connected.
After we had lunch, I explained why I couldn’t give her cold water and I got a hug in return. I asked her if she knew why I didn’t bring iced water when I went to pick her up and she said she knew.
You see, I knew she had understood. But I also knew she did not have the ability or muscle to not feel or act disappointed. Plus she had just recovered from flu and must have been exhausted being in school after a long MC. She had no reserves left for any self-control. Had I chosen to get angry at her, it would have been akin to getting angry at an 8-month-old baby for not walking.
She throwing a tantrum was not an attack on me. She just couldn’t control her emotions. I do not need to take it personally, and I’m glad I stopped myself, re-wired my brain and refused to go any further down the rabbit hole of anger.
I’m not a saint who doesn’t get angry. I’m just a regular human with normal instinctive emotions. I get angry a whole lot bcos of my imprint as a child that scoring 97 or 99 out of 100 is a punishable offence. I have tremendous fear of being not-good-enough. I fear being a lousy parent. And so, yes, I correspondingly have a lot of anger.
I mean, if I were a good parent, my kids should all be behaving well, doing well, listening well, controlling themselves well. So if they act out, it must mean I have failed. My first instinct is, “oh dear, I have failed. How can I help other parents if my children are still giving me problems?”
And if you have read Part 2 of my Dealing with Anger series, you know that it will very quickly be translated by the mind into, “How dare you not do what I have taught you so many times?” which if left alone will become an explosion of anger.
But as mentioned in Part 3, I have learned to take my precious 2 breaths. And those 2 breaths have on many, many occasions given me space and time to re-wire my brain to move away from anger, face my fear and tell it to go away because I AM AN AWESOME PARENT. It’s a conscious decision every day, to re-wire my brain. Sometimes I fail, but over the years, I have had more successes than failures. My brain synapse to anger is weakening.
May you also find courage to face your tiger, face your fear and tell it to go home.
In Part 3, we will look at the “HOW”. How do we control and deal with our anger?
What We Can Do
1) Identify the Fear
In Part 2 of Dealing with Anger, I mentioned that ANGER is the mask for FEAR.
Whenever we get angry, it’s because a fear is triggered. And instead of feeling paralysed by the fear, we put on our ANGRY mask so we can “fight” the threat. In other words, instead of dealing with the fear, we attack whatever it is that exposes that fear.
What we see on the surface is ANGER (shouting, hitting etc). But beneath that surface is a whole range of other emotions that is almost always backed by fear.
For example, most of us instinctively get angry when someone points out our mistakes. But what do we actually feel? Most probably it was embarrassment. However, the underlying emotion is actually our fear of “losing face”.
Or if someone cuts us off in traffic, we feel indignant that the other driver is being rude and we honk angrily at him. But our underlying emotion could be our fear of being late. It could even be due to our kiasuism (fear of losing) to other driver.
Or if, instead of us, a colleague gets promoted. Some of us may feel jealous. We may complain about unfairness or even resign in anger. But actually what is triggered is our subconscious fear that our contribution is not being recognised by our bosses.
Of if our child throws a tantrum. Out of frustration, we yell, shout or hit the child. But if we analyse it further, it could be our fear of not knowing how to help our child. I know some parents fear becoming the parent they vowed never to be. I was one of them. It took me a long time to overcome that fear. I’ll share how I overcome that in a moment.
The point is whenever we get angry, there actually lies a host of emotions (frustration, jealousy, embarrassment etc) beneath that ANGER. And if we dig further, those emotions always stem from fear.
How does knowing that help us?
Every time we feel angry, even if we have already exploded, we need to take the time to reflect and identify the emotion that triggered that anger. More importantly, we must identify the fear that is triggered. After a while, we will discover certain fears keep surfacing.
2) Identify the Fear Pattern
What are the fears that keep surfacing? Is it the fear of “losing face”? Why are we afraid of losing face? Is it because we are worried people will think/know we have FAILED to do it right?
Or is it kiasuism, our fear of losing? Why are we afraid to lose? Is it because we don’t want to appear lousier than others? Because that would mean we have FAILED to win?
Or is it the fear of becoming someone whom we have vowed never to become? Why is it fearful to become that person? Is it because we know that person is flawed and if we are becoming like them, it means we too are flawed, that we have FAILED at being better?
Or is it fear of the unknown, fear of change? Why is change or the unknown so fearful? Is it because we don’t know how to respond or deal with it, that we will FAIL to adapt?
We need to keep asking questions and drill as deeply as possible to uncover our hidden fears.
Most of the time, we will realise our root fear is the fear of failure. And that comes from our fear of being NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
3) Question the Validity of the Fear
The fear of failure is deeply entrenched in our psyche, especially in our culture. We were brought up in a society where failure, or making mistakes, is frowned upon and not seen as an essential step towards learning. Some of us were brought up where we were not given second chances, or were very harshly punished for our mistakes.
I used to beat myself up badly every time I messed up. I would feel guilty, and with each loss in my temper, I would feel more inadequate then ever. Not only did I feel I wasn’t GOOD ENOUGH, I actually felt I was worse than the parent I did not want to become. Why? Because, compared to my parent, I had done so much reading and studying about becoming a good parent. Yet I had failed to do what I wanted to do. I was convinced I was a lousy, terrible, unworthy parent to my children.
Until one day, I had an epiphany.
I used to have a parent who would punish me when I messed up. Not only did I get a tongue lashing, I would get a physical lashing as well. Even if I had scored 97 marks in my Math test, I would receive 3 lashings for not scoring 100. And if I scored 99, then it would be 1 very hard lashing, because I was SO CLOSE yet not achieve 100. I remember scoring 77 marks once. Those were dark days… I was brought up to fear failure, to fear mistakes.
What led to my epiphany was I realised I hadn’t been scolded nor received lashings for more than 30 years. Yet that blueprint of being whipped and lashed had been so ingrained in me that I had became my greatest punisher. I realised I was the one who had made my life extremely difficult especially when my journey was rough. I had become my harshest critic to prevent failing or making mistakes. But my harshness sunk me to greater depths of despair whenever I failed and each “sinking” was harder to climb out of. How could I ever be the parent I want to be if I were so lousy?
So I went on a quest to learn how to overcome the conditioning that failure needs to be “beaten” out of me, that I am never good enough, even if I am at 99%.
And this is what I learned on my quest.
We need to really question the validity of our fear of failure. Past failures do not mean future failures, otherwise none of us would have ever learned to walk, ride a bike, swim, or do almost anything. How many of us learned to do anything the very first time we did them? Most of us had failed repeatedly before we succeeded in doing anything well. Yet, because we had persevered, each failure helped us learn where we went wrong and we became better.
So instead of saying we are not good enough, or that failure is bad, a strong mantra or affirmation we can use is this:
“I am doing the best I can given the circumstances I am in with the knowledge and skills I have.”
“Failure and learning from past mistakes are necessary for growth and success.”
That way, we don’t beat ourselves up when we have yet to reach success. We will have the strength to pick ourselves up, learn, and have another go until we get it right.
These mantras have helped me so much in managing my “failures”, in helping me pick myself up and learn to be better. They have empowered me to feel I CAN be better and they did not sink me into the depths of despair.
It sounds simple, but actually takes a lot of courage and resilience to press on and not get buried by mistakes. When the going got tough, and it frequently did and still does, I just thought about Thomas Edison. When asked how he felt failing 10,000 times before he invented the lightbulb, he replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The key here is to know we can do it and keep working on finding a solution without beating ourselves up.
BUT some parents tell me, “I can’t control my explosions! Even before I can analyse my fear, my anger has already gripped me and I have exploded. So how?”
When we feel that familiar gush of anger flooding into our system, the very first step is to take a deep breath. It takes conscious effort and determination to not let the anger control us. The wonder of taking that ONE deep breath is that most people will find their brains less foggy and they can think better after that one deep breath . It is through this first step that anger can be controlled.
Unfortunately, that is one of the hardest thing to do. I have encountered so many parents who say that once they are gripped by anger, they would lash out instinctively. They only remember they need to take a deep breath after their anger is spent. Why?
Usually when an EVENT happens, we have a THOUGHT or interpretation about it. That THOUGHT triggers us feel a particular EMOTION which leads to a certain BEHAVIOUR. For example, the child hits his sibling. Automatically, our brain interprets that event with the thought that the child is being naughty which makes our blood boil (anger) and we yell at or hit the child
The thing is, whenever we allow a thought to be triggered by a particular set of events and we respond with a particular emotion which leads to certain behaviour, our brain triggers a connection from the event to the interpretation (thought) to the corresponding emotion and finally to the behaviour. The more we react to the same event by pulling up the same thought followed by the same emotion and reinforcing it with the same behaviour, the thicker and stronger the synapse (or pathway) from the event to the final behaviour becomes.
It gets to the extent that the pathway becomes “instinctive”. In other words, the final behaviour becomes instinctive whenever the interpretation or thought appears as a result of certain events. The link (arrow) from EVENT to BEHAVIOUR as well as from THOUGHT to BEHAVIOUR is now very strong and thick.
That is why some parents cannot even stop to breathe once the trigger is activated. That is why for many parents who have “anger management” issues, they cannot even remember to breathe once they feel angry.
Does that mean there is no cure once we have anger management issues? Thank goodness that is not the case. There is a cure. Otherwise I would still be having anger management issues.
I used to be an explosive mom. Despite knowing and doing my best to practice loving guidance, I had on many occasions yelled at my two older children when they were young. And even though it was rare, I have also been guilty of spanking them.
That was years ago before I learned about anger and why I exploded. With that knowledge and a lot of hard work (and mistakes), I overcame that “instinct” to yell at them and was also able to stop myself from raising my hands to their bottoms.
I have 3 children. My older two are 10 and 8 years older than my youngest child. They have often commented that their youngest sibling has a very different mom. Even though they have not been yelled at or hit for years, the trauma of how I had “disciplined” them with violence still remained.
That is why I strongly advocate for peaceful, loving discipline. Our children remember how we treat them, even if they may have forgiven us.
Visualise It Now
So how did I overcome my anger? It was through visualising what I would do when the “event” occurs.
Let us do a few simple exercises now.
Take two deep breaths slowly (BEHAVIOUR 1). Now visualise yourself calming down and creating the THOUGHT that your child needs your help. Then bring up the feeling of compassion and imagine yourself talking gently and lovingly with your child. You can even think of the “script” you would say to the child when you are calm (BEHAVIOUR 2).
Keep replaying that visualisation over and over again.
Why would that help? It helps because our brain cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary. It will still form synapses. Hence, when we visualise or imagine something, our brains will still trigger the connections. In other words, we can actually “rewire” our brains just by thinking!
The more we visualise ourselves doing this, the stronger the pathway (arrow).
If you can, keep repeating this visualisation several times a day. However, I shall be brutally honest here. After doing the exercise now (assuming that you have done it), most parents will most likely repeat this visualisation only when they explode the next time and feel guilty. They will remember they WERE SUPPOSED to take 2 deep breaths.
Instead of feeling guilty that you did not take 2 deep breaths but had exploded, just do your visualisation. Imagine yourself taking 2 deep breaths, creating the thought that your child needs help and you feeling compassion for him.
Then go through the script where you will speak gently and lovingly to him. Keep doing this EVERY TIME you explode. Do not give in to the guilt and replay how you have exploded. Otherwise you are reinforcing the synapse of you responding to events or behaviour of your child with anger. Stop the video of your mistake. Create a new video of you taking 2 deep breaths, calming down etc. Trust me, it works. It takes time and effort because we are rewiring our brain, but it works.
How do you know you have mastered “Taking 2 Breaths”?
When you feel irritated or frustrated, but not angry yet, you will find yourself taking the 2 deep breaths, feeling calmer and being better able to speak gently and lovingly.
You may also notice your explosions getting fewer in frequency and lesser in intensity. Your synapse below is ready.
When that happens, you are ready for Step 2.
What is Step 2?
Step 2 requires you to rewire events that make you feel your child is being naughty or intentionally making you upset.
Think about something your child does that typically causes you to explode. Imagine that she has done that. Now visualise yourself taking two deep breaths and calming down.
Keep doing this visualisation while practicing you taking 2 deep breaths, thinking and believing that your child needs help and you speaking gently and lovingly to her. Keep doing this until it becomes your default behaviour.
Once you can get from whatever triggers you (big or small) to taking your 2 deep breaths, the rest of loving guidance will follow.
What? There is still Step 3?
Well, I never said changing our habitual instinctive behaviour is easy, did I? It takes effort and we need to cover different scenarios because right now the more easily triggered we are by anger, the more “roads” we have in our brains that lead to “Rome”. So we need to “destroy” those traditional paths and recreate new roads that lead to paradise.
So what is Step 3?
It is catching ourselves having the thought that our children are naughty. Whenever we have that thought, catch it and visualise ourselves taking 2 deep breaths. We want to create a strong pathway for this negative thought and link it to us taking 2 deep breaths.
When we find ourselves successfully catching ourselves referring to or thinking that our children are naughty and following that thought with 2 deep breaths, we would have succeeded in creating and strengthening these new pathways in our brain and weakening our old paths.
I have a few parents who confessed they would still scold and spank after they take their 2 deep breaths. The reason that happens is because their visualisation practice laid out in first part of the exercise (visualising taking deep breaths followed by the thought that their child needs help, followed by the feeling of compassion which leads them to be able to speak gently and lovingly) was not strong enough.
This manner of rewiring our brain applies not only to anger management. It applies to all aspects, including getting rid of procrastination, overcoming fear, etc. The more vivid we can visualise what we would like happen, the faster and thicker the connection will grow and the sooner we will be able to exhibit the desired behaviour.
That is why our thoughts have power. When we keep replying old “videos” in our heads, feeling the same shame and guilt for our angry explosions, we are actually strengthening those undesirable explosions!
Instead of feeling shame, guilt and regret, play a different video, one where we do the right thing and say the right thing. Just keep replaying that video. It would be more productive in helping us change our behaviour.
I hope you have enjoyed the 3-part series of Dealing with Anger. We have looked at WHAT anger is, WHY we choose to react with anger, and HOW we can deal with anger. In my next post, I will share a little more about why teaching and disciplining with love is more productive and effective than teaching and disciplining with fear.
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