This week has been a stressful one for me. My to-do list is longer than ever and I’ve generally been short-fused. It’s in times like these that I know I’m less accepting of my children’s behaviour. It’s not always like this. I’m much more accepting of behaviours on Saturday mornings, when all I need to do is play with the kids instead of rushing to work.
It’s struck me that there are times I send mixed messages to my kids. They’re unintentional, but ultimately create tension within the family. I bet I’m not the only one who experiences these, so let’s chat about three common frustrations families experience.
From the time our children are born, we make sure that they’re well fed and getting the best nourishment. But as your child grows, think about how meal times change. When you sit down for dinner, are you hungry or is your child hungry? Or is it just that the clock shows that it’s dinner time?
We make our children sit down, hungry or not and then we tell them to eat, whether they feel like eating what we’ve made them or not. Then they tell us they’re full and we say, “one more bite” or “you must eat at least one carrot”.
Do your children know what behaviour you find acceptable or unacceptable at mealtimes?
Different Messages from Each Parent
Have you ever been in the situation where one parent has one standard, and the other parent has completely different standards?
Let’s consider that mum needs to go to work, and dad is watching the kids. Mum comes home to find that there’s a big mess in the living room – and she’s furious. To her, the worst part is that dad hasn’t done anything, or even seem to care! There’s been no yelling or crying so as far as dad’s concerned, the rest is fine.
Do your children know what behaviour Mum finds acceptable or not, versus what Dad does?
Expressing Emotions in Public
Every child has had a meltdown in public. Whether at a playdate, restaurant, or shop – sometimes a child doesn’t want to hear why they can’t have exactly what they want then and there. And it’s embarrassing. We feel the weight of all the other eyes around on us.
We might recognise what the child is going through; be it hunger, exhaustion or disappointment. Ultimately they’re expressing an upset behaviour.
Does your child know what you – and society for that matter – consider acceptable behaviour?
Where’s Your Line of Acceptance?
“In your relationship with your child you will have one of two attitudes towards everything you hear her say or see her do – acceptance or un-acceptance.” – P.E.T.
The Behaviour Window is a concept developed by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Thomas Gordon. It shows that we either feel okay about a behaviour, or we don’t. Everyone has a line of acceptance that sometimes goes up, sometimes goes down. Where and when we grew up, how we were raised, our culture, religion and other factors all influence how we view other people’s behaviour.
The Behaviour Window concept is taught in Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.). It goes on to say there are 3 things that will always keep a parent’s line of acceptance moving up or down.
1. Self. Our general attitude at the time will influence our acceptance of a child’s behaviour. If we’re stressed, under pressure, or preoccupied we’ll be less accepting of the behaviour.
2. Environment. Where we are when the behaviour happens will impact our acceptance of it. We may allow children to act one way at home, and another at a friend’s house.
3. Child. Our acceptance will shift based on the child’s age, sex, personality, etc. For example, we might be more accepting of a baby having a pacifier than a six year old with one. Or we might be more critical of a son than a daughter.
Sometimes I find my youngest daughter’s behaviour acceptable (I mean, she’s only 2) whereas there’s no way I’d let my eldest get away with that – she knows better!
Going back to the frustrations above, think about how…
– we’re going to accept different table manners from babies than from teens at the table. And we’ll feel differently about kids sitting up to eat breakfast before school than we will on a lazy Saturday morning.
– the concept of parents being a ‘unified front’ is impossible. The honest differences between parents are normal and ultimately healthier. Have fun deciding who gets to be good cop or bad cop that day 🙂
– you can only do your best and take time to stop, think and breathe. You’ll get through the upsets.
I know I’m not a perfect parent. No one is. Just like no child is perfect. There will be times when I dislike very much what my child is doing, and I might feel disappointed or angry her.
The trick I learned in P.E.T – and that I keep trying to practice – is to be as communicative as I can. I try to praise them when they’re doing something I find acceptable so that they know that’s a good behaviour to learn (and vice versa). The course is a toolkit of tactics you return to over and over again, to help you focus or understand what’s going on, as your children grow, learn and change.
Parent Effectiveness Training is available in Gaborone. I know, because I took it (and trust me, I’m still learning!) The central goal of the course is to present skills that can help parents have happy, healthy and satisfying relationships with their kids.