You are spending a beautiful day at a park with your kids. While fixing a zipper on your older child’s jacket, your toddler falls on a walkway. Apparently unhurt by the fall, you see your two year old on the ground peering around for you. Another mother helps him to his feet and he smiles up at the friendly woman. Then he catches your eye and bursts into tears as if hurt. Is he hurt? Has he learned to cry with falls? Is he expressing emotion to test your reaction?
This is a small example of how our reactions can teach our children behaviors. Parenting is an interactive process. Both parent and child may develop behaviors in response to the others reaction. When a child first falls, we may react with worry and concern about injury. We may run to the child’s aid most often to discover minor scrapes. Nonetheless the child cries – perhaps not with injury but responding to our reaction of fear for injury. Thus a pattern of behavior for both parent and child begins mostly due to our reaction.
This is not about falls. Certainly some falls can be hurtful and need sympathy but a grand majority are not. The point is that children can subconsciously manipulate our behavior patterns just as we can subconsciously manipulate their behavior patterns. This can happen in many areas. Food battles often occur as children wait for their choice of food to arrive while watching a parent worry over their refusal to eat. Bed times can be delayed as children use fears to make us come for multiple curtain calls. Sometimes kids know how to put on a face or an emotion that pulls on our heartstrings and gets them the reaction they want from us. Some kids learn to get attention from parents by behaving badly. They establish a pattern early and learn to get parent’s reactions to bad behavior.
So what are parent’s to do? How do we measure our reactions? How do we analyze what we are doing that is resulting in behavior patterns we don’t like in our kids and in ourselves? These questions are what make parenting one of the most introspective experiences in our lifetimes.
Think for a moment about some areas of parenting where you react strongly. Ask yourself a few questions. Do you have some unrealistic fears that make you react to your children? Are you afraid they will starve? Do you worry about them getting hurt? Do you think our kids can’t manage without you? What is so important in situations that make you react strongly? What assumptions are you making? Do these assumptions make sense? Or are they false assumptions drawn from your history or heritage?
Do you take everything your child does as a reflection of you as a parent? Do you respond to your children in an effort to control them? What children do is a reflection of them not you. And as much as you try to control them they will have to assume control of themselves for themselves.
Answer these questions for yourself. Recognize why you have strong reactions to some of your children’s behaviors. If we can understand our reactions and where they come from, we can start to temper our emotions in different situations. You will see your children responding less in behavior and tempering themselves as a result. As we control ourselves, many times our kids will become better in behavior. It seems so basic but is very difficult to see and understand when you are in the midst of battles. It just seems to happen that the more self aware parents are, the more self aware their children will become.