About Me

I am a parent coach. I received my MSW from Simmons School of Social Work and have been a licensed social worker practicing in the greater Boston area for over 20 years. My dream has always been to work with parents on the most important job in their lives. In my practice and in my blog I want parents to be heard, supported and informed in order to feel empowered to be effective as parents. I love helping parents find joy and mastery in their parenting.

"Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him" - Dr. Henker

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Talking the Talk

In my last post, I explored the idea of critical self-talk, and how that ultimately affects the way we talk to our children.  We must start by beginning to notice how we talk harshly to ourselves, in order to notice ways in which we talk harshly to our children.

Now we get to a chicken and egg sort of problem, how does one start the process of changing both the way we talk to ourselves, and the way we talk to our children?

We need to forgive ourselves for having made mistakes in our tone when we talk to our children.  We have all done it.  There are lots of understandable reasons why it happens.  We are juggling work-in or outside the home, children, issues with spouses or partners, extended family, single parenting challenges, housework, etc.  Also, children learn by testing limits so they are often pushing our buttons.

When we notice it happening in the moment, the first step is to say some kind words to ourselves.  It is the way we develop a forgiving attitude to our own mistakes. It takes a lot of practice to change our critical inner voices to positive encouragement; and leads you to run the risk of feeling silly.  Sometimes it can help to think about how you would talk to a dear friend who is in the same situation.

“Ah-here it is again-critical talk. Its okay sweetie, you’re over tired, it’s been a really hard day, give yourself a break.  At least you’re noticing it, that’s the first step.”

Kristin Neff, a psychologist and expert in self-compassion therapy approaches, beautifully illustrated how she used this approach towards herself when her young son had a tantrum on an airplane, in her Ted Talk.

It’s hard to imagine a more challenging moment; Kristin tells about how she was able to talk kindly and compassionately to herself during it, causing her to feel comfort and support.

If it’s safe and possible, take a little break from whatever you were saying or yelling harshly to your children.  You can cultivate strategies to help calm down in the moment.  Some people find it helpful to take a few deep breaths, count to ten, talk to another supportive adult.  There is a really helpful Parenting Stress Hotline-1-800-632-1818, if you find yourself needing another person to help you in a supportive way.
If you are disciplining an older child you can say, “I’m feeling really angry, we’re both upset, and I need a little break to get my thoughts together.  Lets each go into a different room for 5 minutes and then get back together.”

You may be surprised at how stopping the escalation of tempers can make a big impact on the children, just in itself.  It’s different and surprising to them.  They might deescalate a bit themselves in response.

If it feels comfortable you can engage the children in this process by saying something like, “I’m sorry I was yelling, I know no one likes to get yelled at.  I am feeling very tired and I’m frustrated because I asked you to turn off the TV three times.  But yelling is a mistake.  I will try to talk more calmly.”

In talking like this, you are not sanctioning their misbehavior, or saying that something doesn’t need to be done, you are just taking responsibility for the tone, modeling ways for them to calm down themselves.  You will still need to set appropriate limits, but you will be approaching it in a calm, manner. The word discipline means to teach: we are teaching our children appropriate behavior, both by the limits, and the manner in which we set them.

I will continue to write about self-compassion, parenting, and how to develop effective, firm, but kind limit setting.  These are the cornerstones of the approach I refer to as “Middle Ground Parenting.”

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