Have you ever noticed that your anger and irritability strongly correlate with your stress levels? This is quite a common occurrence, especially in parents.
According to a recent survey conducted by Today.com and Insight Express, 72% moms stress about how stressed they are, 60% say they do not have enough time for doing what needs to be done, while nine out of ten moms stress about fitness. Such acute stress often leads to an impromptu outburst on their children, resulting in 40% more stress levels amongst children with stressed mothers.
Now, what should mothers do to manage this situation?
The answer to this fundamental question lies in positive parenting. While positive parenting may sound like a simple idea, its implementation is not so easy. But there is a way out – I like to call it the STEPS method:
- S: See through their Defences
- T: Touch and Connect
- E: Explain Why
- P: Peace
- S: Stop giving Orders
In moments of stress, just remembering and implementing STEPS can prove to be a game changer as it lets you stay away from stressful behaviour and makes you a positive parent.
See Through Their Defences
Scientific research provides strong support to the fact that children start developing defence mechanisms starting from an early age. In fact, you can be sure that the development of defence mechanisms in your child will follow a predictable pattern.
During early years, this will manifest in the form of ‘denial’ or ‘avoidance’ and in the stage of adolescence, these mechanisms will become more complex.
Therefore, it is rather urgent and imperative for you to analyse and decode your child’s defence mechanisms.
You can think of your child’s words and silence as walls concealing the truth, and start deconstructing those walls with a new perspective.
At the same time, you must also analyse if your parenting is contributing towards the development of unsavoury defence mechanisms in your child. Studies indicate that some mothers (not all) tend to use the same attachment style that they were exposed to.
For example, some mothers tend to become abusive if they were exposed to abuse during their childhood. And this surely is not ideal!
Instead of incessantly scolding the child, you should analyse their body language and see through their external facade.
For example, you can observe the occurrence and frequency of the ‘startle’ response in your child.
If you feel that it is occurring quite frequently and perceptibly, then you can deduce that they may be feeling extremely fearful and protecting themselves against sudden and intense emotional stimuli. Also, it might be time for you to seek some advice from an expert.
Also, research shows that if a child is showing increased defensiveness while responding in social settings, then the root cause may be the lack of emotional security. And as a mother, you must pay attention to this as emotional insecurity may make a child susceptible to mental health difficulties.
If you pay attention to both subtle and overt verbal or non-verbal cues, then you will develop the gradual compassion and empathy over time.
Of course, all of this requires tremendous patience and perseverance. But I know that your most intrinsic and singular motivation is to become a kind and caring parent rather than an agitated one.
Touch and Connect
The recent abundance of so-called modern advice has led us to believe that any form of discipline that does not physically hurt the child is acceptable.
Although refraining from inflicting physical pain is a huge positive step forward, you need to be aware of some destructive non-physical discipline techniques, such as taking a time out, walking away from your child or dishing out unnecessary consequences.
While taking time out or walking away from the situation can feel like the right thing to do, it may lead to a feeling of abandonment and isolation in your child. This always results in children being left alone to deal with emotions they do not even understand.
Brain scans show that the outcomes of isolation as a form of discipline is equivalent to the effects of physical abuse, which is not what you want for your child.
Consequences as a form of discipline might appeal you with its effectiveness, but you need to understand its negative effects on a relationship.
Consequences work when your child is afraid of losing their privilege, and when compliance is earned through fear, it crowds out trust as a loser. It is effectively bullying! This will only serve to disconnect you from your child.
It is our job as parents to make our children feel safer and content until they are wise enough to understand what they feel. These “non-lethal” methods won’t make your child feel that way. Switch to an alternate approach which is less passive aggressive but more understanding.
One way of establishing a soft yet strong connect with your child is to share stories.
We craft stories and stories shape our lives and character. Since time immemorial, stories have proved to be potent tools not only for entertainment but for transmitting cultural values across generations.
But what kind of stories should we tell to our kids?
In my view, family narratives work best. You can tell about your family members’ anecdotal experiences which are interesting, inspirational, insightful or even plain funny.
You can include stories of your school/college experiences or your life with your spouse before the children were born. Other things you might consider sharing are – family traditions, family origins, challenges faced and overcome by family members.
On a personal note, I would like to share that the stories told by my paternal grandmother had a salutary effect on me when I was a child.
She was an adventurous person who used to ride ponies with boys, stood up to their bullying ways, played outrageous pranks on them and even had a say in choosing her husband – my grandfather! Thinking about her courageous ways still bring a smile on my face.
Stories will help your child construct a robust, well-woven concept of the Self.
Also, family stories will help you organize experiences into an integrated, meaningful content and prepare the whole family to navigate through complex situations that may arise in the future.
All children are curious little angels – they thrive when you set sensible, compassionate limits.
If we think about directing our energy from emphasizing on limits to explaining to our children why these limits exist, it can go a long way in building compassion and trust, as it lets them build and define their limits for themselves.
What is really magical is when children themselves start to realize the acceptable boundaries and limits and start to self-regulate themselves.
It is always a good idea to tell your child why he/she shouldn’t do something by telling them and letting them explore rather than focusing on the “Do not” factor of it.
Interestingly, if you explain things to your child, their ability to reason and provide explanations will develop naturally.
Research suggests that the ability to provide explanations does not appear until the child enters the third year of life. And even then, such capacities manifest only in surprisingly weak and inefficient forms.
At the same time, even infants have the cognitive capability to understand complex causal linkages. So what gives?
Cognitive psychologist know that young children have the ability to predict the behaviour of physical objects and human agents. But, their ability to provide an explicit and cogent explanation appears at a later stage and it develops quite slowly.
No wonder that even as adults, we face difficulties in providing explanations to others even as we are able to recognize the correct explanation when presented with choices. Perhaps we were never given effective explanations during our childhood.
However, now we have the opportunity to accomplish this for our kids – explain the rationale behind our decisions that affect them (to shape their behaviour); and to obtain the added benefit of helping them develop sound reasoning capabilities.
Peace does not imply absence of any noise or trouble – it means even amongst suffering, you can still be calm in your heart.
Offering a peaceful home environment can not only benefit you but also the growth of your children. Keeping peace in the home can make your children more open, curious and calm.
Peace can reduce your need to physically intervene and reduce their violent and restless tendencies, as they learn from your actions.
For you as a rational mother, it is important to avoid rash decision-making and to adopt deliberate decision-making.
Impulsive decision-making is something that is driven by thoughtless sentiments or desires and it is an unproductive manifestation of your drive to control and dictate.
On the other hand, deliberate decision-making is more thoughtful and rooted in your ability to hold the emotions, restrain yourself from going for instant gratification, and to carefully judge every dimension before taking any decisions.
It is imperative for you to understand that if you succumb to the impulsive triggers, then you are following the orders of your reptilian brain – the limbic part of the brain which would force you to act like a selfish reptile that is only interested in self-gratification and survival.
As a modern-age mother, this is something you simply cannot expect or accept from yourself.
On the other hand, if you are being calm, then you are championing the ‘executive’ part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex that supresses the feelings of fear and frustration and allows you to monitor the situation, plan like a supercool spy and execute with panache.
Wouldn’t you want to exhibit to your child that you are perfectly in control and that you are an epitome of wisdom – a mother who can deliberately select the most appropriate response according to the situation?
If you become successful at this, then you will be doing the most wonderful job ever – teaching your child to exercise self-restraint, killing damaging impulses in the bud, introducing sufficient delays so that emotional disturbances die down, giving ample chance to the neocortical analytical brain and thus, thinking wisely before reacting!
The way we interact with our children affects their mental growth and understanding.
We can either choose to be cooperative or we can choose to boss them around. This fundamental difference between our approach will define whether they grow to be more confident, outgoing or self-indulging and doubtful.
The simplest way to practice cooperation is to stop ordering and start stimulating desire and understanding.
Cooperation can go a long way in building relations while ordering someone around will only work until the looming threat of repercussions and consequences remains.
Raising children is a stressful time for both moms and children.
However, the way you conduct yourself with children deeply affects their growth. Mindfully choosing more positive and liberating approaches will reduce stress for both the parties while acting out of stress and impulse will always contribute to increasing stress and deteriorating relationships.