I know that it can be difficult and stressful to stay calm when your child is being uncooperative. It is also hard to visualize what calm actually looks like when you are in the middle of a challenging argument with your child. So, I thought I would write a post that uses a role-play in order to illustrate the difference between an out-of-control parental response and a calm one.
Consider these examples of unhealthy vs. calm parenting responses
The situation: a child is in the car and the parent wants to get underway.
The battleground: getting the child to wear a seatbelt.
Parent: Anthony, we are about to pull out of the driveway. You know you have to wear a seatbelt. Put it on now.
Anthony, whining: I don’t want to. I hate seatbelts!
Parent, starting to get angry: Anthony, why do you have to turn everything into an argument? Put it on or so help me, I’ll…I’ll…I’ll do something you won’t like.
Anthony, lip quivering: I don’t like you. You’re mean!
Parent, voice louder: Mean? Mean? I’m just trying to keep you safe! Why do you have to argue about everything? Now do it!
Anthony: No, you’re being mean and I don’t hafta.
Parent, now yelling: I won’t tolerate that kind of disrespect! You are in trouble and will have to be punished, over a silly seatbelt. Are you happy now? No treat for you this afternoon. Maybe now you’ll try to be a good boy.
Anthony, crying: That’s not fair! I want a treat! I want a treat!
Parent, angrily: Stop whining! Do you want to lose dessert and your bedtime story? Now put your seat belt on before I really get mad at you.
Anthony, sobbing, puts on seatbelt.
Parent, exasperated: Finally! Now don’t you feel foolish for making such a big deal over such a stupid seatbelt? Now stop that crying. There’s no good reason for that.
It is probably easy to understand that as a result of this dialogue, the child is confused, surprised, misunderstood, attacked, frightened and ashamed. It’s likely you understand the parent who is frustrated, angry , exasperated and feeling guilty. Did you see how the parent used sarcasm and global words like “always” and “never?” Did you hear the humiliation and shame spoken to the child? Did the child really learn what was intended?
Let’s run it again and try some calm parental responses
Parent: Anthony, we are about to pull out of the driveway. The rule is all passengers must wear their seatbelt.
Anthony, whining: I don’t want to. I hate seatbelts.
Parent: I understand you don’t like to wear your seatbelt. The rule is we cannot drive without everyone being buckled in.
Anthony, defiant: No, I’m not gonna and you can’t make me.
Parent: You have a choice right now. Either you put on the seatbelt on or I will… (Pauses) I see you have decided that today I will put your seat belt on you.
Parent moves toward the child: OK, I see you’ve changed your mind. You like to be in charge of putting on your own seatbelt. Now I can drive knowing everyone in the car is safe. So, what can we look for as we go down our street?
Do you see the difference?
The child feels that the parent was in control, but there was a much more calm, confident, direct approach. I also think that the parent felt in control of this situation and did not have to resort to yelling. sarcasm, shaming or exaggerating.
The parent used clear and deliberate statements of expectations and a willingness to act if the child would not comply. Notice there was no compromise on the rule of putting on the seatbelt.
For the child, this type of parenting usually leads to a sense of safety, confidence and respect. Plus, the best part is that there is no shame to the child.
This is just one example of how calm parenting can create a safe, disciplined, secure and non-threatening environment for a child. It does take some practice–and sometimes some serious self-talk even during the process–so that you can be an effective disciplinarian while staying emotionally and relationally healthy.
More to come about calm in my next post!
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Preventing Violence through Anger Management, 2006, Diane Wagenhals. Licensed Materials. All rights reserved.