Sometimes we lose it with our children, their behaviors are escalating, refusing to go to bed, getting daily phone calls from the school staff complaining how "bad" little Johnny or Sally has been in school today, or just giving you the silent treatment. It is natural for all parents to get frustrated and start to raise our voice, maybe even threaten to spank them if they did not perk up. Does this sound familiar?
So you might be wondering what parenting has anything to do with thermostat and a thermometer. Let me explain what the difference are between a thermostat and thermometer. A thermometer reacts to the temperature (the one with the red line that goes up based on the temperature of the room), whereas the thermostat controls the environment (we set the ideal temperature and the machine will turn on or off when the environment has reached the ideal temperature).
When our children's behaviors and feelings escalate, we as parents naturally react (thermometer) by getting angry, yelling at the child, or sometimes threatening them with punishment. In today's tip, I will be helping parents learn to respond (thermostat) rather than react (thermometer). When we react to our children our behaviors and feelings get escalated and we feel out of control, which then escalates our children's feeling and behaviors. Kind of like throwing more fuel to the fire.
So how can we as parents start to respond and be more like a thermostat, more in control with our feelings and behaviors with our children? We can start to reflect our child's feeling and thoughts in moments when they need help to be in control of their big feelings. Here are some questions to think about as you follow through the Parenting Tip Series. Ask yourself: "What do I want my child to remember about me/my relationship 20 years from now?" Think about the best memories from your own childhood, what kind of relationship did you have with your parents? Was it a positive or negative experience?
In the previous blog post, I encouraged parents to engage in special play time for at least 10-15 minutes per day or even just 30 minutes once per week with your child. Special play time can be a great place to start understanding your child and how to help your child feel that you understand their feelings, thoughts, and needs. So how do I do that you ask? Well here are some suggestion and mindset when you start special play time and practicing to respond rather than react.
First, during special play time, you want to follow rather than lead the play, allow you child to lead the play and only set limits if it becomes a safety issue. Reflect their behaviors, thoughts, need/wishes, and feelings (without asking questions, I know this is a real tough one for many of my parents and also for myself). You want to "Be With" attitude by conveying the message of "I am here, I hear you, I understand, and I care. What we don't want to convey to the child is: I always agree, I must make you happy, I will solve all your problems.
Second, notice your child's facial expression, their body language, look into your child's eyes and see what they are feeling. Once you have identified what your child may be feeling, reflect/respond with a simple response such as "You seem sad,""You are really angry with mommy/daddy," etc. Also, make sure to match your tone of voice and facial expression of the feeling that has been identified to match your child's, which is conveying empathy.
Third, I always encourage parents to provide their child a lot of nurturing and caring touch, whether its giving them a bear hug, rubbing their back or head, or redirecting them to a sensory soothing activity when they are feeling overwhelmed, such as blowing bubbles, throwing balls, or squeezing the play-doh.
I encourage you today to start noticing how your child is feeling today, tomorrow, and any day and respond to them in a gentle nurturing way so that they feel they are seen rather than invisible. Engage in daily special play time 10-20 minutes a day to see your child's inner world, and who knows, your own inner child may come out and play with your child and find some healing for your own inner child.
If you are interested in learning more about Play Therapy or Child-Parent Relationship Therapy. Please contact me at or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my website: elikolmftplaytherapy.com. My practice is in Orange County, Costa Mesa, CA.
Be on the look out for the next blog post "You can't give away that which you don't possess." (quote comes from one of the parenting lesson chapters (2006, Bratton, Landerth, Kellam, and Blackard)