Been there, done that and hate it.
A serious conversation with our child suddenly devolves into a fight worthy of an elementary school yard. Instead of being able to settle the issue, we instead find ourselves upset and angry and our children feeling the same.
That’s not the way to work things out. But how do we get back on track?
Laura Kastner, PhD, author of Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens and Wise Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials for Raising Successful Tweens + Teens, suggests that first we need to get control of our own feelings.
“In my first book, Getting to Calm, I talk about emotional regulation,” says Kastner, a clinical psychologist and clinical professor in both the psychology department and the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington. “When our kids push our buttons, we end up with what’s called emotional flooding. It’s where we have neurons fire in the emotional part of our brains. Our heart rate jumps, our thinking ability gets distorted and often we’re only thinking in very simple black and white terms—like I’m good; you’re bad. Unfortunately, our kids are probably at the same point and nothing is going to get resolved while you’re both in that state.”
What to do?
It’s all about gaining emotional regulation. First calm yourself down–unless your heart beat slows you can’t get into your thinking brain to evaluate how to handle the situation—take deep breaths, step out of the room for a moment or focus on serene thoughts. In other words do whatever it takes to get your feelings under control and return to a rational state of mind.
“Once you get to calm, then you can decide how to handle the problem whether it’s having just discovered marijuana in your kid’s sock or they’ve been drinking and can’t understand why you’re so upset,” says Kastner, noting that one of her favorite mantras for getting control is repeating “the only person you can control is yourself. You want to connect before you correct, if it’s not going well, back off.”
But getting to calm doesn’t make the original issue go away. Now a parent has to use their cognitive skills to be wise minded, to know their values and what they believe is right.
Just as importantly, no matter the behavior, Kastner says we need to listen with empathy and create a connection by understanding your child’s emotions.
“Maybe they want to go to an overnight party but you’ve just learned no adults will be there,” she says. “Say something like I know you really want to go to that party, but no you can’t. Another of my mantras is you might be right but is that effective? If you are sympathetic and kind, there’s a higher likelihood that it will work than if you become a tyrant and just say no. Teenagers have their own moral reasoning and can really believe that it’s okay for them to do things they shouldn’t.”
When a teenager or a child is flooding to the point where they’re having a melt down, it’s not a good time to talk, says Kastner who compares that situation to trying to reason with a drunk.
“Touch them gently, shoot some hoops, look at animal videos but don’t try to talk about the issue,” she says. “Don’t leave the room without saying you’ll be right back because that feels like abandonment. And if you’ve gotten too upset, use I statements—say I was so angry, I really regret what I said, I wish I hadn’t. Tell them you’re going to hate my jurisdiction; I get it but I’m saying no. Validation is not giving in. It just lets them know we understand.”
Sidebar: Wise-Minded Mantras
In Wise-Minded Parenting, Laura Kastner suggests repeating these mantras to yourself the next time you’re losing emotional control.
- My teen is doing the best she can, given her age and stage.
- Good character does not guarantee good behavior full-time.
- My love messages really matter, even if my teen can’t resist expressing disgust or irritation.
- My goal is to demonstrate emotional intelligence, not to control my teen’s reactions.
- I will not cave when faced with high emotions.