The Most Important Piece Of Parenting Advice – Find Calm 

I’ve had several recent opportunities to share my thoughts on parenting and to give parenting advice. These opportunities have caused me to pause and think deeply about the best advice to give. I really like to share suggestions for connecting with children and methods of approaching misbehavior as teachable moments and discipline as an opportunity to teach rather than as a time of punishment. Unfortunately, before we can take advantage of these methods and this way of looking at discipline we must get good, really good, at being able to find calm in the midst of chaos. 

Most of us are pretty good at being able to find calm when we are in a beautiful, serene place and we’re able to focus on our breath. While that’s wonderful, and I don’t want to take anything away from meditation as a daily practice, the reality is that most of us dealing with children don’t feel the same sense of calm when our children are having an emotional meltdown, fighting with their siblings, or complaining about how unfair it is that they can’t do something their friends get to do. In these situations, anxiety kicks in and pushes thoughts of calm to the curb.

But it doesn’t have to. 

If We Can Change Our Thoughts About Misbehavior We Can Find Calm In The Midst Of Misbehavior

If we can change our thoughts about misbehavior we can find calm in the midst of misbehavior and this alone helps to pave the way to more considered, more powerful, more beneficial ways of interacting with our children.

Most of the anxiety that we feel when our kids misbehave stems from the thoughts we have about their misbehavior and the stories we tell ourselves about the misbehavior. 

Some of these thoughts and accompanying stories are:

My kids behave worse than other people’s kids – therefore I must be a lousy parent. 

If my kids don’t learn to behave right now – they’re going to grow up to be criminals.

If my children fight and squabble all the time – they can’t possibly grow up to be giving, caring members of society. 

When we start with an anxiety-inducing thought and then we expound on it with a fear-inducing story we feel more anxious and talk ourselves into a state of disempowerment, and then our efforts to discipline become progressively more fear based and progressively less focused on actually teaching our kids the skills they need to navigate this complicated existence called life.

The First Step Is Simply To Change The Thought

If we change the thoughts we have about misbehavior then we can shift the stories that we tell ourselves. When we do this we can find or maintain calm even in the face of a temper tantrum, emotional meltdown, squabbling siblings, undone chores, and confrontations about how unfair we are and, in fact, any other misbehavior that comes up. 

We can break this shift down into steps that we can focus on in that moment when our child is mid-tantrum and all we want to do is shut down the tantrum. 

Misbehavior Is Normal For children

The first step is to remind ourselves that misbehavior is normal. It doesn’t mean we’re bad parents. It doesn’t mean our kids will grow up to be bad people. It means, simply, that we have a moment in which we can teach our child something meaningful. We can choose to think about that moment of misbehavior as a moment which illuminates the need to teach our child something important rather than choosing to see it as a sign that we are inadequate as a parent or that our children are inadequate as children – neither of which is the case. 

When we embrace misbehavior as normal and we can see it as the thing that illuminates the need for teaching then we can almost be grateful for it. I know, that might seem like a stretch in the moment of the misbehavior, but if you can embrace the idea outside the moment of chaos when misbehavior is occurring then it’s there, closer to the surface and easier to remember in the midst of the chaos and misbehavior that erupts when children are tired, hungry, stressed, feel that life, their parents, or their friends are unfair.

Once We Change The Thought Then We Can Change The Story We Tell Ourselves – This Leads To Calm

The truth is that any of these thoughts and their accompanying stories are just thoughts – bits of emotional energy that express a fear that we have rather than a hard and fast reality. The reality isn’t scripted yet…it’s being scripted now by the thoughts we choose and the actions that follow in the footsteps of the thoughts we’ve chosen.

While our kids may behave better or worse than anyone else’s kids on any given day it doesn’t mean that we’re good or bad parents. The reality is that MANY things influence how children behave. Some of them are within our control, but the majority are not. Misbehavior is normal for kids, especially when they are hungry, tired, stressed or when they are either uncertain about their place in the world, or when they are straining for more personal autonomy, which is also a normal part of development for children. 

While we do want to impart all the life lessons that help kids grow up to be contributing members of society, that they’re misbehaving today doesn’t have much to do with whether they are going to grow up to be law-abiding citizens ten or fifteen years from now. In fact, if we react to misbehavior as an indicator that teaching needs to be done, and we provide that teaching rather than viewing misbehavior as an indication that punishment needs to be doled out we can react in ways that actually build the neuropathways in the brain that support the underlying thought processes that coincide with law-abiding behavior. 

Children usually fight and squabble because they lack the years of experience we have and don’t yet have proficient use of other tools to get their needs met within social interactions with siblings, friends, or others.  If we recognize children squabbling as a need for teaching better skills for getting along with siblings, friends, and others then we can, in fact, help our children build the neuropathways in the brain that support positive social interactions. 

The first, and most important, step in connecting with children and providing the instruction they need to become better-behaved children is to change our own thoughts so that we can find the calm space within ourselves from which to approach the misbehavior and the reasons for it so we can provide the instruction that aids the child’s growth rather than simply punishing the behavior. 

For those interested in learning more about the ways that the discipline we choose impacts the actual development of children’s brains I suggest No Drama Discipline and The Whole-Brain Child