In the interactions we have with our children, we can fall into unhelpful patterns of interaction with them. These patterns can then become stuck or amplified over time which contributes to us feeling less effective as parents.
A strategy that many of the parents I work with find helpful is changing their view of the situation. If you think about it, your approach to the problem situation with your child has within it certain biases, assumptions or beliefs that shape those interactions. For instance, a parent who has a belief that a child should never talk back to an adult will likely react in a predictable way when a child talks back to them. Now if this happens occasionally, it is likely not a significant issue. It is when this pattern gets repeated over and over that most parents start to feel stuck.
Changing your view of the situation can happen in many ways. I will offer some different ways that you can do this that will likely help you begin to see your situation differently.
1. See the interaction from your child’s perspective. As part of the parenting workshops I do, I often stand on top of a chair looking down on the participants and I asked them to notice what this feels like to have someone looking down on them with an angry face or pointing a finger at them. Most parents report it is unsettling. Now imagine if your child is five years old. A parent engaging their child by yelling while looking down at them may produce feelings of fear or anger with the child. They then become dysregulated and have difficulty being able to rationally manage the situation.
Close your eyes briefly and imagine looking at you from your child’s perspective. What are you seeing? Pay attention to your body posture, facial expressions, or voice tone. What kind of reaction would most people have they saw you act the way you are in your mind? Notice any tension you feel in your body as you imagine your child’s viewpoint. You can even imagine yourself having a different body posture, voice and then notice how you may respond from your child’s perspective.
In moviemaking, it is not unusual to film scenes in order to produce a certain emotional effect. For instance, an elevated camera that is looking down on the interactions between two individuals is very different than a shot as if one of the participants was looking at the other person. A shot close-up feels very different than a camera panned back in a more scenic type of view.
You can use this strategy to help produce a possibly different type of interaction with your child. For instance, if you are getting frequently upset with your child more than likely that intensity occurs in close proximity with one another. Now imagine, if your interactions with your child were farther apart or perhaps closer together with less intensity. Any of these changes would likely give a different emotional experience with your child.
2. Seek feedback from a trusted friend. When we are struggling with their child often is because of the strong emotions that are part of those interactions. Our friends more than likely do not have the same level of emotional investment in those interactions and likely can see the interactions you are sharing with them from a different perspective. Ask your friend for feedback regarding what could be done differently. Your friend is likely helpful to give you feedback that bypasses some of the biases and assumptions you may be using in your interactions with your child.
3. Learn from those who more successfully manage similar interactions with their child. This could include someone you know who is able to manage similar situations that are causing you challenges with your child. Ask them how they manage those interactions in particular what are they thinking to themselves that perhaps help them manage it differently. The other possibility is to go on YouTube or other video sharing sites and find video examples of parents managing the situations you are dealing with. Sometimes just noticing facial expression or tone of voice in a video helps you become more aware of how you could change the patterns present with your child.
4. Just do something different. Getting stuck involves doing the same thing over and over with the same results. You can try different behaviors and notice what difference that has on your interactions with your child. For instance, if you find yourself frequently raising your voice, try speaking with a softer voice when communicating with your child. If you tend to talk at your child from the couch, try doing it when you’re physically close to them. Not everything you tries going to work but changing the pattern often will allow something different to occur and that difference may be helpful in those interactions with your child.
So now you have four different ways you can try to change the interactions that are creating problems between you and your child. Perhaps a change in view is just what the doctor ordered!