Many, many years ago, my mentor in the parent group used to stress the importance of parents being calm, confident, cheerful and cordial. So let’s break it down and look at the importance of each.
Calm: The only way our kids will ever learn to self-regulate is by watching us. So what is self-regulation? It’s the ability to appropriately manage our disruptive emotions and impulses. Self-regulation helps us when we want to yell at our boss or put a hole in the wall.
Ever heard parents yell at their kids to calm down? It’s astonishing that parents hold their children to a higher standard than they hold themselves, and expect their children and teens to do what they themselves are unable to do. And of course I’m reminded that not that long ago that was me.
Calm begets calm. The calmer you are, the more quickly your child or teen will calm down. Often it’s enough just to sit quietly with them or hold them until the emotion passes. You may have to leave the room. You may have to leave the house. You may have to call the police. But you must remain calm.
But most importantly, children and teens need to know that their tantrums aren’t too big and powerful for you to handle – or so big and powerful that they can control you. There is no sense of safety or security or comfort for them in that.
Confident: Children and teens need to know that someone is in charge, that there is someone competent at the helm steering the ship through stormy seas.
Don’t confuse this with false confidence or bluster or bravado. This is a calm confidence that doesn’t attempt to cajole or beg or plead or persuade or get permission. It’s a confidence that’s self-sufficient.
Confident doesn’t mean we always have all the answers, just that we’re able to pause, to find answers, and to make reasonable decisions in the meantime.
This is the type of confidence that says, “If I have a kitchen to work in when I get home from work, I’ll make dinner.” It’s the type of confidence that says, “Yes, I know this is hard right now, but you can do this. And I’m here.”
Cheerful: Go look in the mirror. Is your reflection smiling back at you? Frowning at you? Scowling? Despondent? Angry? Afraid?
This is what your children see, too. So if you were them, what would your impression of adulthood be? If you were a teenager, would you be chomping at the bit to have the life of the person in the mirror?
Gratitude is better for your mental health than complaining, so focus on what brings you joy. You may be out of practice. That’s okay. You too can learn.
Cordial: If things have been strained between you and your child or teen, don’t force things, and don’t be insincere. Just be pleasant and friendly. The fewer words the better.
Provide information, not advice or opinions. “Dinner’s at 6. I’m making hamburgers.” “I’ll be shopping later. Let me know if you need anything.”
But always, always smile when they walk into the room and let them know they’re welcome.
If you’d like to know more about Choice Theory, email me at email@example.com and I’ll send you PDFs of the booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and the handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries. And, as always, I welcome your questions and comments.