Who’s responsible for the atmosphere in your home?

· When our children start speaking to us in ways that we don't like it is time to get curious. Yet, often we respond to disrespectful language and harsh attitudes like it is our child's job to change the tune. Here's why this approach will make you wait a long time, and what you can do right now to re-boot unwanted dynamics ·

Jul, 05, 2022

Responsibility. It feels like a heavy word. But for a parent the concept of responsibility isn’t exactly foreign. From the moment we meet our little human we are acutely aware of our responsibility. Which is why we do everything we do from;

Making sure they have a balanced diet, that they brush their teeth, they learn to tidy up and have good manners.. and the million other things that don’t get a positive response.
We take our responsibility seriously.

But that attitude that they bring into the home – the one that instantly deflates you and makes you feel taken for granted – that cannot possibly be our responsibility too!

Or can it!?

By the time a parent typically reaches out to me for support because they’ve reached a point in their family dynamics that feels like they’ve run out of rope – there’s usually a sense of resentment and disillusionment.

“My niceness isn’t paying off. And now it’s up to my child to behave better if they want a nice mum/dad”

This is totally understandable. Because it can feel very one-way and unreasonable. Like false economy.

A place to start

The reasons that our family dynamics end up in what feels like a dead-end vary. But one thing a dead-end calls for – is something new. And a good place to start is to get curious;

Who do you hold accountable for the tone in the house and the family’s overall atmosphere?

If we think to ourselves;

“I will be nice when my child is nice”


“I will be respectful when my child stops being so rude”

.. we will likely be waiting for a very long time.

This mindset might work when we are dealing with another adult, fully mature and able to flexibly adapt to others. When it comes to children, however, what is usually a responsibility shared 50/50 between adults, we are 100% responsible for the tone, the atmosphere and the quality of the relationship with our child.

This is not a question of blame, but acceptance of the fact that a child lacks the social skills and emotional maturity to change things for the better without an adult leading the way. Children depend on us to be willing to lead the way. Even if, at first, it doesn’t feel like it is paying off.

“What kind of language is that?”

“Yours”.. said the daughter.

In moments of desperation it can feel like we have no other option but to escalate to threats and shouting when calm pleas like “please speak kindly to me” seems to fall on deaf ears. And while we may then walk away feeling like we’ve outmuscled our child, this ultimately perpetuates the negative spiral and results in poor role modelling.

The good AND the bad news is that children do what we do. Therefore, negative dynamics soon change, when we begin to think and act differently.
Let me share with you 3 things you can do to reboot your family dynamic:

  1. Take a step back
    Thinking of the encounter with our child not as one that we need to win and dominate in the heat of the moment, try taking a step back and get a broader picture of the dynamic that is upsetting you.
    Often, this is very difficult when we are triggered, so in times of peace allow yourself to:

  2. Get curious
    – What might be going on for my child when he/she speaks disrespectfully or uses a harsh tone?
    – Is he/she reacting to something in me?
    – How do I sound or come across?
    – What is going on developmentally for my child (toddler, pre-teen or teen?)
    – What is my reaction style when I set a boundary? Do I disappear, get aloof or harsh or am I vague?
    – Does my child’s behaviour and language mirror other family member’s behaviour?

  3. Set your boundary before you reach your limit.
    Getting curious and showing willingness to see new perspectives does not negate the need for boundaries. Nor does it condone behaviour that feels disrespectful. However, it might help you understand what prompts the behaviour in the first place.

    Whether you discover that your child is having a tough time at school, or that you yourself have a tendency to speak harshly, a boundary is always called for when you are confronted with behaviour or language that you don’t like;

    Please speak kindly to me”
    And then – MOVE ON by trying to uncover what your child is actually trying to communicate:

    Did you not feel that I heard your point before”?

This way of communicating allows for a different encounter. And does not take us to the same dead-end that feels all too familiar. Taking responsibility means getting curious and acting on the information you find.

When we relinquish the need to have the last word or always be right, our relationship with our child can quickly transform. Kids follow when we decide to go new places.

Louise Brooks

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