Have you ever “lost it” with you kids? My guess is that most people will answer, “Yes,” to this question. The next question is, “Then what did you do?”. Did you feel guilty and beat up on yourself. Or did you rejoice because you just provided your children with a model of learning from mistakes? A primary theme of Positive Discipline is that “Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn”. This is true for adults as well as children.
People who are drawn to Positive Discipline really believe in treating children with dignity and respect. However, these same people are not “saints”. They don’t always “live” what they know—including me. This is a good thing.
Instead of feeling guilty when you make a mistake, rejoice that you have just provided a good example for your children. Guilt is not productive for longer than about 10 seconds. In 10 seconds your guilt will serve you to help you can realize you have made a mistake.
Then give up the guilt and do something about the mistake. Lisa Fuller, a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer in Oakland, CA shared the following article. I knew it would be encouraging to so many parents who sometimes find themselves in the same boat, so I asked for her permission to share it with you. (To find out more about becoming certified with Positive Discipline, go to www.positivediscipline.org)
Close and Connected Even When Mom’s ‘Lost It’
By Lisa Fuller, MSW, CPDT in OAKLAND, CA
The other night at supper I completely ‘lost it’ with my kids—I mean full-on, crazy-woman kind of ‘lost it’: that raised voice, heart-pumping loss of control that feels scary at the time.
Twice I had asked my ten year-old son, Ethan, to attach the belted carrier for his CD player. As part of his occupational therapy he does therapeutic listening with a CD player and headset for a half hour every morning and evening. During our meal, he got up to get himself a glass of milk, and I noticed the cord dangling around the table and start to pull on the CD player (I imagined it crashing to the floor) as he headed for the fridge. My tirade went something like: “THAT’S-IT. YOU-NEED-TO-TAKE-CARE-OF-THIS-NOW-BEFORE-YOU-DO-ONE-MORE-THING. YOU-ARE-PUSHING-ME, WHY-DO-YOU-KEEP-PUSHING-ME? TAKE-CARE-OF-IT-RIGHT-NOW!”
We stood two feet from one another–I pointed my finger vehemently at him and spoke in my loudest voice. Believe it or not, this was a tempered reaction for what I wanted to do was put my hands around his neck and shake him. What followed reminded me of the movement of a ghost as Ethan turned and seemed to silently float out of the room to retrieve the belted carrier. His response was so calm juxtaposed to my internal violence. I returned to my seat at the table. Three-year-old Sonja said, in a matter of fact tone, “That was too loud mommy–that hurt my ears.” Meanwhile I took deep breaths–trying to regain some sense of composure so we could move on. 13-year-old Nicolaas sat there–I felt a rush of embarrassment.
Ethan returned. He looked at me with a sheepish grin in his eye–already he’d forgiven me. He had his two hands vigorously pressed on either side of his mouth—to keep from laughing. I couldn’t help but smile at him and I said “thank you for taking care of it.” Now it was I who started laughing with great relief. Before I knew it we were all roaring. Through his giggles Ethan explained how he had never heard me be so loud and how much it hurt his ears – “you really lost it mom,” he said.
After we had eaten a little more and laughed a little more I said I was sorry for having exploded and I expressed my regret. As usual the kids were very forgiving and just happy that we were now all smiling and feeling close and connected.
A week after this incident a new friend came to our house and remarked how our home had a uniquely remote feeling in a tight, urban neighborhood. She said, “The neighbors hear my kids screaming when I wash their hair.” Ethan smiled at me, knowingly and enthusiastically added, “Oh yeah mom, remember how loud and crazy you were last week!”
Could it be that he did not feel ashamed but rather remembered the experience as “mom being loud and losing control.” This struck me as significant - he was able to separate and choose how to respond to a difficult situation.
I’m sure I will have other hard times with my kids. I will do things that I wish I hadn’t–I will have regrets and wish I were a better parent. But what feels different for me now, after years of practice, of stumbling through the lessons of Positive Discipline, is that I know my connection with my children has its base in mutual respect. When I make such a mistake, I don’t simply move past it as if nothing happened. I acknowledge what happened, if not in the moment, soon enough that it is relevant to the children. Last, there is an element of trust and letting go–role modeling the best that I can while knowing that I will continue to be an imperfect parent.