Child Misbehaving? Learn the Power of “The Pause”

Guest post by Bonnie Harris of Connective Parenting

What do you do when your button gets pushed? Can you respond with “The Pause”?

Your child reacts uncontrollably to something you have said. You either: least expect it, highly disapprove of it, are hurt by it, or it reinforces what a terrible job you think you are doing in raising this brat. What’s your immediate reaction?

Let me guess. You react uncontrollably back. You yell, you blame, and you say and do things you swore you never would and regret it. Why do we do this when we know it doesn’t work? First because we’re human and human nature retaliates when confronted, afraid, and angry. The trick is not to feel confronted, afraid or angry—then you can respond in control of yourself.

This is where “The Pause” comes in.

Stop whatever you’re doing. Breathe. Walk away, go for a walk, take a bath, sleep on it—take a break. This is the hardest step. “She can’t talk to me that way and get away with it! I’d be letting her know she won. She’s got to be taught a lesson or she’ll never learn!”

So let me try to convince you that none of that is true. You will only “let her get away with it” if you would rather sweep the incident under the carpet and not revisit the unpleasant event. She will only “win” if you declare yourself a loser. She will learn a lesson far more effectively when both of you are calm and she doesn’t feel blamed. Think about it. Children learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process and feel good. When they are struggling to uphold their side of things behind a wall of defense, the only thing they can focus on is protecting themselves from what they expect—attacks from an angry parent.

Your anger doesn’t help

  • In order to stop yourself and pause, you must not take your child’s anger personally.
  • If you are afraid she will treat others this way, ask someone else who knows her. Does she speak disrespectfully to teachers, neighbors? Chances are, no. She saves her frustrations for you. Amazingly, that is good news.
  • Your anger will only fuel hers further. If you want her to gear down, you need to be in the gear you want her to meet.
  • Don’t expect her to step off the power struggle wheel first, “Oh sorry, Mom. I get it now. You’re right. I should listen to you from now on.”

If you can pause and breathe, you will give yourself that 2 minutes or several hours you need to think, calm down and respond effectively. Then DO find a way to go back over it. Maybe it’s at bedtime, in the car, while you’re doing dishes. Then instead of blaming and reacting you will have given yourself time to take responsibility for yourself—which tends to be catching.

“When I asked you to take your laundry upstairs, you reacted pretty angrily to me. I didn’t like the way you treated me. I get it that you didn’t want to do it and that I was interrupting your show. How could we have handled the whole situation differently? What could you have said to me that I could hear and understand? What do you need from me when I want you to do something?” You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from your child.

I can guarantee, you will get a very different response, and she will learn the lesson you want her to learn. If you get into this habit, she may likely be the first one to come to you after the Pause and apologize.

Bonnie Harris, MS Ed, director of Connective Parenting, has been a child behavior and parenting specialist for over twenty-five years. Based on her highly acclaimed books, When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live, Bonnie offers individual parent counseling, parenting workshops, professional trainings and speaking engagements internationally. The mother of two grown children, she lives in New Hampshire where she founded The Parent Guidance Center. To learn more, visit her website, Facebook, or Blog, and follow her on Twitter. This article was reprinted with permission; you can find this article originally published on her blog HERE.

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