These words of wisdom are often offered by us when conflict erupts between our children; when our youngest copies our oldest – and our oldest is about to lose it.
“Just don’t react”
If only it were that easy for a child. Or for us, for that matter.
Because the truth is, irrespective of our age, when our buttons get pushed, a chain reaction is set in motion within. Unless we become aware in the moment and teach ourselves to respond as opposed to react on auto pilot – what follows is rarely benefitting the situation.
Children learn from us how to handle their emotions by watching how we express ours. They learn which feelings are welcome and which aren’t by how we meet them when they are overwhelmed by big emotions. Because a child’s feelings can be big and loud it’s so easy to loose sight of the fact that we are dealing with a child and not an actual threat. And before we know it we may have cut right through the noise by shouting our own anger or sending them to their room.
That’s why statements like; “just don’t react” are rarely effective. Because unless we role model the very thing we teach – our children will ultimately do what we do. Not what we say.
So what can we do to manage our own reactions?
Anger is not the problem
It’s tempting to think that anger is the problem. If only we could put anger in a box and put a lid on it – then it would all be easier. So we promise ourselves after having lost it – yet again – that tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I won’t get angry. Perhaps we even apologise to our child that we got angry – as if anger was the bad guy.
The thing is – our anger serves a function. It alerts us to our own boundaries and propels us to take action to stand up for ourselves and to communicate that is okay with us and what isn’t.
Anger is not the problem. It is our relationship to anger that trips us up. Few of us have been shown how to be angry in socially acceptable ways; how to not inflict hurt of damage when we are angry. Therefore we may choose to ignore the signs that anger is rising and suppress it to avoid having to experience it. We put it into storage. Along with the other uncomfortable feelings that we don’t want to feel.
However, this is the exact reason why it can feel as if we go from calm to monster mode in the space of seconds. The box is full. You can’t press the lid down any longer – and it all erupts. It is a vicious cycle – because the more our anger comes out in this manner the more we take it as a sign that our anger is too uncontrollable and frightening that it needs to be suppressed.
Breaking the cycle
Knowing – and trusting that your anger is not your enemy but a feeling that can help you to set your boundaries is an important first step in transforming this vicious cycle.
Befriending your anger in this way allows you to feel what happens before you actually get angry and flip your lid. One of the main reasons we over react is because we have ignored the signs that a boundary needs to be set and have ended up stretching beyond what feels right for us.
- You agree to baking with the children – although you have nothing left in the tank and cannot cope with any mess
- You give another 5 minutes 3 times when you’re in the park with the children, but all you really want to do is go home because you are hungry and exhausted.
- You clear the table after dinner while your partner lies on the sofa – although you would really like some help
The feelings that often precedes full blown anger are annoyance or frustration or sadness. Feelings that you might not want to feel or don’t know how to express. Yet, in order to avoid the over reaction it is important to heed these cues and give yourself permission to feel the way you feel.
When we delay our no in order to avoid a conflict – we start a war within. Our feelings only intensify and we pay the price at a later stage. It is far easier to set a boundary in a respectful manner when we are not seeing red. When we are still in control of ourselves.
Is this easy?
This takes practice. And can feel a little scary if this is not how you usually express yourself. Your child activates the parts of you that needs some loving attention. And when you accept the invitation to look closer at these parts you can transform not only your relationship with your child – but your relationship with yourself.