No matter how great a parent you are and how well you teach your children how to behave, kids are occasionally going to be less-than-pleasurable to be around. They are human, after all. And they are engaged in an intense, years-long process of learning about being human, growing and change rapidly through various phases and stages.
As parents, it can be hard to figure out how to help them through all of that. Especially when they're pushing our own emotional buttons.
Mom and educator Dr. Chawanna B. Chambers— or "Dr. Chae," as she goes by on her website—shared a parenting tale from her own life that offers us all a beautiful example of how to teach a child who is seemingly acting disrespectful how to manage their responses. For many parents, a child talking back or being rude is met with immediate anger or sternness—perhaps an instinctual response from their own upbringing or beliefs about respecting our elders.
But for Chambers, her 6-year-old speaking rudely was an opportunity to teach a lesson about our brains and how we can head off a problematic interaction before it starts.
"I noticed that my 6-yo was being a lil rude/curt w/me, so I asked her what was up," Chambers wrote. "At first, she just looked at me, so I reiterated that I can't help her if I don't know what's wrong.
"Then I asked, 'Why are you being unkind to me? What happened?'
"She looked at me and said, 'I don't know,' and started crying. I told her, 'It's okay. Sometimes mommy just doesn't feel happy too. You're not in trouble. I just needed to know how to help.'"
Gold from the get-go. Even just asking the question, "Why are you being unkind to me?" invites a child to think through their thoughts and emotions in a way that doesn't put them in a space of fear or defensiveness. And having mom reiterate that she understands how it feels to not know why you're unhappy and share that she wants to help gives her daughter room to do this important work.
She looked at me and said, “I don’t know,” and started crying. I told her, “It’s okay. Sometimes mommy just doesn’t… https://t.co/QURtDtJISA— Chawanna (@Chawanna) 1617395543.0
"She said, 'My brain tells me to be rude,'" Chambers went on. "I told her that's sort of how it happens for lots of people. When our emotions aren't happy, sometimes we take it out on others even when they don't deserve it.
"She asked, 'Wait. Your brain does it too?!' I told her yes, and then I asked her if I could teach her something that might help. She said yes, so I told her, 'When you aren't quite feeling right but don't want to be mean, you can say, "I'm not feeling my best self; I need a min."'"
Empathy. Compassion. Education. Concrete ideas for what to do instead of what they're doing. It's like a master class in positive, supportive parenting techniques.
She asked, “Wait. Your brain does it too?!” I told her yes, and then I asked her if I could teach her something tha… https://t.co/gBDOJ9WOog— Chawanna (@Chawanna) 1617395701.0
"So, we practiced saying that over and over again until she felt better. She gave me a hug and stopped crying. I think about all the ways I *could've* responded, particularly a power trip bc 'I'm the adult,' but she needed to process something not even about me."
That right there is such a key thing that's easy to miss as a parent. So many times when our kids are expressing frustrations in our direction, they have nothing to do with us personally. We are merely a safe space for them to vent, and they may not even know why. That doesn't mean we should let them speak to us any old way they feel like it in the moment, but it does mean we can utilize that space to help them work through whatever they're feeling and figure out a different way of expressing themselves.
"Trying to be slower to projection or anger has really given me an opportunity to coach my children on emotional maturity," Chambers reflected. "Even at 6, she can learn how to challenge her own thoughts. She can learn how her brain works and the best ways to engage w/others."
Yes. Children are far better at this kind of emotional work than we give them credit for. It takes time and patience, but it pays off in the long run.
Trying to be slower to projection or anger has really given me an opportunity to coach my children on emotional mat… https://t.co/mZc5uMaquo— Chawanna (@Chawanna) 1617396032.0
With a background in education, Chambers may have a leg up on many of us in terms of understanding child psychology and explaining it on a child's level, but that doesn't mean we can't all do our best to focus on empathy and education in our own parenting.
Not only does this kind of approach help kids learn how to manage their behavior, but it also strengthens bonds between parent and child. When your kiddo knows they can trust you to help them and not hurt them, when they get the message that their feelings are normal and they can learn to manage them, when they see that their mom or dad also have the same struggles they do sometimes and can help them through it, they know they've got support.
Our job is to teach them as the humans they are, not train them like animals at obedience school. And most importantly, we teach respect by exhibiting ourselves. When a child behaves in a way that's contrary to what we expect and what we've taught them, it usually means they're struggling with something. And nothing is more respectful than listening, acknowledging, empathizing, and helping when someone is clearly struggling.
Children learn what they live, as the saying goes. Thank you, Dr. Chae, for offering a beautiful example of what that looks like in action.
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