Saturday, November 27, 2010

Behaviour and Feelings

About two years ago I read this statement:

"the child who feels right, acts right"

the statement comes from the book "the Power of Positive Parenting" by Dr. Glenn Latham. I figure I should credit that.

This simple fact resonated with me. It was an "aha!" moment. Throughout the past 2 years, I have used that statement to rethink how I handle my kids and their behaviour and it has influenced how I parent.

Previously, I think I would often deal with the "behaviour". For example, if a child were to whine at me about the injustice of some insignificant event (Arthur won't stop looking at me).. I would point out how silly that is to be whining about that and how they need to ignore it.

Now - it's still silly to be whining about it, and it needs to be ignored .. AND .. the whining tells me my child is tired and needs to go to bed. Or hungry. Or has had a bad day and needs to talk about it. Instead of just dealing with the behaviour, I deal with the feeling that is driving the behaviour. It depends on the situation, but the point is - whining is a clear cue to me that I should do something. Feed them a snack. Or put them to bed now instead of in half an hour.

The point I am trying to make is - I have realized that the behaviour is not going to change until the feeling (tiredness, hunger, etc.) is dealt with. Telling the kid to stop the behaviour without addressing the feeling underneath is less effective, less helpful to them in the long run.

Charlie has temper tantrums, like all children his age do. I think it's very easy, as a parent, to get wrapped up in telling your tantruming child that they are being unreasonable about whatever it was that set them off. Wanting to go outside right now when you're cooking dinner, wanting a treat, trying to extract them from the drivers seat and wrangle them into their carseat. But, truly, there is an overload of frustration or anger or fear, perhaps mixed in with tiredness or hunger, and it's those feelings that are driving the behaviour, not the situation itself that triggered the temper tantrum.

When Charlie has a meltdown, I have found the fastest way to help him get back under control is just to address the feeling and help him calm himself down. I don't think the "growing out" of temper tantrums is the result of the child who understands better what they can and can not do, but rather because they have become better able to handle the emotions they feel when confronted with disappointment, frustration, anger.

I've also done research on how the brain develops from infancy and through child hood, and as a result I believe that one of the best things you can do as a parent is help your child cope with negative emotions. How your child - from birth onwards - is helped to manage their emotions has a long lasting effect on how they react to stress throughout the rest of their life.

On the flip side of all this "dealing with bad days, intense emotions" negative side of life as a parent - "the child who feels right, acts right" gives me a greater sense of direction for how to encourage my children to .. well.. act right. There are so many things we can do, as parents, to help our children feel right. There are equally many things we can do to take that "right' feeling away.

If I can inspire my child to want to fix their own problem, to seek a fair solution in an argument with siblings, to help without being asked, my child is much more likely to do it and to feel good about it. Inspiring feels a whole lot better than belittling, nagging, chastising, ridiculing, demanding.

All of this is pretty important to me. I have watched an evening turn sour because one persons bad mood infects the other people in the house and there is bickering and unhappy children and parents. I've seen what happens when the family collaborates and works together and enjoys eachother's company. Focusing on the feelings underneath the behaviour - the behaviour you want or the behaviour you don't want - has had a big impact on me and my kids.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. I agree.

    One quote I'm always saying to mine is "How you think is how you act." I think that works well, too.