Larissa Dann

Imagine this. Your child begins to cry, or leaves their toys on the floor. You've been reading those parenting blogs that seem to have all the answers. On paper. However, when it comes to the crunch and it's real life . . . Instead of calmly problem solving, you yell, and suddenly, you're in a power struggle.

I think defaulting into automatic reactions can be one of the hardest parts of trying to change as a parent. Wanting to do the best by your children (and you), and then not using the skill you intended and knew would be most appropriate for that situation.

Here are some ideas on helping you cope with those feelings of guilt and annoyance when you fall back to old habits, rather than implement your parenting knowledge.

1.  Acknowledge that parents are merely human, not perfect.

I teach, as well as practice, a peaceful, gentle approach to parenting called Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.). However, I still make many mistakes, and I don't put all the skills into practice when perhaps I could.

A huge learning for me from the P.E.T. approach is that parents cannot be perfect. We are human. I’ve discovered that we're going to have our good days, and we're going to have our bad days. What was important for me, and my children, was how I handled my less-than-perfect responses after they happened. Did I learn from my mistake, and try to change for next time? Or did I find myself in a rutt, repeating the same conflict over and over?

You may be helped by the concepts of ‘good enough’ parenting, and self-compassion (see #8 below). To quote this headline ‘You only have to be a good parent half the time’.

2.  Be Self-aware and reflective.

We cannot change what we do not notice.

So, the first step in making a change to our behaviour is to become aware.

What was happening for you when you yelled? How did you feel? Were you stressed from your day? Tired? Ill? Hurt by what was said or done? Frustrated, because now you have extra work to do? Embarrassed because grandparents were in the house, watching?

Reflect on the situation. Could there be a different response? Would Active Listening, rather than ignoring, have helped calm your distraught toddler? By reflecting on a situation that went badly, we acknowledge our own part in what happened. This can be hard. At the same time, self-reflection is how we can grow and learn.

The very act of considering what you did, how you felt, and how it could be different, will begin the process of change for next time.

3.  Reframe ‘mistakes’ as learning points.

Try transforming a ‘mistake’ into a ‘learning point’.

According to Steve Emmons*, a reason we feel bad when we don't get things right is because of our negative past experiences with mistakes. He suggests reframing an incident to not about what you did wrong, but what you can learn from it.

4.  Apologise

Apologising to our children acknowledges to them, and ourselves, that we handled a situation poorly, and would like to repair our relationship. And, of course, when we apologise we are modelling behaviour that we would appreciate from our children.

5.  Modelling. It’s OK for children to be less than perfect, too.

When we are less than perfect as parents, yet accept ourselves in order to change; when we positively show how we deal with making very human mistakes; then we model resilience to our children.

Now, they too can be flawed little human beings, and make mistakes in their lives. And they can look upon their learning points without fear, because they will be secure in their knowledge that their parents will understand, and therefore be forgiving of them.

We gift them with our acceptance of their imperfection. Perhaps, they may even be a little less anxious?

6.  Repair the relationship.

One outcome of taking an intentionally peaceful approach to parenting, is that you have the skills to analyse a damaging situation. For example, you could break apart a conversation, work out why it felt bad, and have the words to explain to your child what happened, and then . . . you are on the way to repairing your relationship.

7.  Learning stages.

There are four stages of learning when you take on a new skill. These are: unconsciously unskilled; consciously unskilled; consciously skilled; then unconsciously skilled.

The second stage, ‘consciously unskilled’, occurs when you know what you could be doing, but you don’t have the confidence to put that skill into practice. This stage is often accompanied by guilt.

Let's imagine. your kitchen might be messy because your teenager has made himself and his friends an afternoon snack. You’d like to use an I-Message, and even problem solve to prevent this happening in the future, but you’re worried he’ll look at you like you’re an alien from another planet. So you don’t say anything, and instead feel resentful. But now you know why you feel resentful, and you notice how he responds. With your new awareness, you can see how it impacts on your relationship with your son, and that he has no idea what he’s done. So you may feel guilty – even powerless.

Sometimes, it may help to remember that learning a new style of parenting is like learning a new language - it will take lot of practice (and mistakes!). I encourage you to persevere, for the sake of your lifelong relationship with your children.

8.  Understanding your triggers, and self-care.

Part of becoming self-aware is understanding our own triggers. Are we unconsciously repeating our parent’s reaction to a behaviour? Has your child unwittingly triggered feelings of guilt or shame that is associated with your past, not with your child?

Below are links to websites and books that look in-depth at caring for yourself as a parent.

My Discoveries About Making Mistakes, After Two Decades of Peaceful Parenting

By putting respectful communication skills and principles into practice, I feel secure in my relationship with my children. I know that I can, and will, make mistakes and say things I really wish I hadn’t. Rather than stewing for days on my parenting failures, I try to address, with my children, what I said or did that caused me this self-doubt. And, I apologise

I am comfortable that my children know me, and are aware my many flaws, my idiosyncrasies. (‘Typical Mum!’ is a phrase I often hear!)

My children, in turn, are then secure in their understanding that I accept them, for all their unique humanness.

* Personal communication, Meike Lemmens, P.E.T. Instructor and Master Trainer.

First published 5th March, 2018



Parenting From The Inside Out. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell

When Your Children Press Your Buttons. Bonnie Harris


Aha Parenting Website - a selection of articles on self-care

How and When to Apologise to Your Children. Laura Markham.

Parents Needs Matter - The Art of Self-Care and Respectful Parenting. Kelly Meier, Respectful Parent.

A message about taking care of yourself: Kidsmatter

How to reparent yourself. Racheous.

Go Easy On Yourself, A New Wave Of Research Urges. The New York Times.

© Larissa Dann 2018

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