One of the biggest lessons I have learned through being a parent is how powerful it can be to take the time to calm down before dealing with the mischief my kids get into. And the reality is, I am constantly given opportunities to practice this skill. Today I am going to share the story of my most recent experience.
About 20 minutes ago I heard a loud sound in the entryway of our house. When I went to check it out, I saw that one of the posts of our railing had been knocked out and had fallen to the story below. The kids were on their way downstairs and looked at me with anticipation when they saw me standing there.
They immediately began spilling a story.
“No thanks,” I said. “I am here,” showing them a hand gesture that indicated I was too full of anger to hear them. “I am going to go cool off and will come up and talk to you when I am ready.”
Oh man. I wanted to yell. I wanted to go right into blame and shame and make them really pay for playing ball in the house, for playing too close to the railing, for not respecting our living space the way they should. All the words were there, fueled by emotion. I could have really let them have it; maybe even gotten them to shed a few tears.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I drew upon what I know about the brain.
I know that when a person gets flooded with emotions, we move into our midbrain. This is where our emotions live. This is where we store our memories and our fears. When we are in our midbrains, we do not have access to our prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that holds all of our executive functioning – flexibility, adaptability, problem solving, self regulation, empathy, seeing other’s perspective, regulation of the nervous system and more.
Why does this matter? Well, I am my best self, my best parent, when I have access to my prefrontal cortex. It is more likely that my kids will take accountability, make amends and find solutions to their mistakes when I show up with my executive functioning skills in tact.
The mom that shows up when I am moving from my midbrain is mean and irrational, looking for retribution. She is not the parent I am proud of.
So I gave myself some time to cool down.
After I was calm, I went to my kids and let them know what I needed.
I said, “I need you to name and own your mistakes and come up with some ideas on how you are going to fix them. I am going to give you some time to talk about it together, and when you are ready, you can come talk to me.”
After a few minutes the kids came in. They kind of spilled into my room giggling… I noticed that this brought up some irritation in me (moving towards that midbrain again…). I asked them to think about the mood of the situation, and to come in again, in a way that matched that mood. They did. They each had a chance to tell me what happened. Neither of them blamed the other; they owned that they were playing with a ball in the house; they owned that they were too close to the railing, and they came up with a solution to fix the problem.
I asked them what they learned.
They learned that the posts in the railing really are weak (I’ve been saying this to them for years). They learned that the landing was a bad place to play with a ball (I repeat this like a broken record). And after they tried to “fix” the problem, they learned it would be more complicated (and possible costly) than just snapping it into place.
Here’s the thing: I could have yelled these things at them; lecturing them about the poorly designed railing, about playing ball in the house, about how it could have been them falling down to the first story!!! I could have done that. I could have given in to my midbrain and just come totally unglued.
But I didn’t.
And by taking care of myself, getting back to calm, I gave them the opportunity to think, really think, about what had happened and how they could make it right.
Was I mad? Yes.
Did they know it? For sure.
Did I need to yell? No.
So I invite you all to notice your body, notice when you are ready to lose it with your kids. I invite you to take care of yourself, to parent from a place of calm. Notice how this affects your family.
And remember, parenting is a practice.
Casey O’Roarty is teaching a seven week parenting class, Parenting With Positive Discipline, in Kirkland beginning March 17. To register, go to www.7weekparentingwithpd.eventbrite.com. To watch a short video highlighting the tool of Understanding the Brain, go to www.joyfulcourage.com/pd-tool-card-vlog.