When you’re in the thick of dealing with a tantrum or yet another bedtime battle, stepping back in order to create a connection with your child may feel impossible. Like any human, if you’ve been pushed to exhaustion by your child’s arguments, the last thing you want to do is let go of your point and your determination to gain control.
It may sound counterintuitive, but stepping back in these situations in order to focus positively on your child can actually be one of the most effective things you can do.
Why is Connection Important?
Disagreements and arguments with your kids do anything but create connection. Unfortunately, both parent and child often end up feeling frustrated, unheard, and in tears in these situations.
Conflict, unfortunately, triggers the fight-or-flight response in humans. This is true of children as well, not just adults.
When you become locked in a battle of wills with your child, their natural response will be one of trying to protect themselves by fighting (yelling, hitting, anger) or fleeing (tears, loss of emotional control, etc.).
It’s vital to remember that this response is out of their control. It’s a physiological reaction to a perceived threat. They haven’t progressed in their emotional and social development enough to have the skills and understanding to calm themselves down.
But as the parent, you have the power to help them escape this instinctive reaction of fight or flight. You do it by making sure you connect with them in difficult situations, even when it’s the last thing you want to do. When you connect with your child, both of you will be better able to navigate any corrections needed because of their behavior or choices.
The Power of Empathy
Think of times in your life when you’ve been upset or in an argument with another adult. Did a friend reach out with a hug and a word of encouragement when you were disappointed? What would it have felt like if the person you were arguing with actually stopped to acknowledge that you were sad or offended or hurt about a situation rather than telling you to get over it?
Many people are relieved to receive empathy from those around them, even if it’s from the person they disagree with.
Children are the same way. When you stop to validate their feelings or acknowledge that they’re upset, you’re helping short-circuit the fight-or-flight response that fosters conflict. Consider how you feel when you’ve been embarrassed, shamed, mocked, or disregarded. You probably don’t feel very important to the person or people doling out those responses. In the same way, children act out when they feel unimportant and inconsequential.
When you connect with them, though, you let them know they do matter to you, no matter what.
What Does Connection Look Like?
There are lots of ways you can create this connection. For example, when your child is upset because it’s time to leave the park, be sure to acknowledge it: “I know you had a wonderful time at the park and don’t want to leave. I know it’s hard when fun ends.”
It’s important to foster a sense of connection with them outside of arguments as well. You can do this by listening intently, asking questions about what they say, giving them your full attention, and creating fun family rituals. As you do this, you’re showing them they matter. And when your child feels validated and understood, they’re more likely to respond to corrections. In fact, you may even find that arguments and disagreements become less frequent as a result of this investment in your relationship with them.
Being a parent isn’t easy. If you feel you’re doing your best, but your child is continuing to struggle with behavioral and emotional issues, please reach out to my office. You don’t have to do it alone.