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By Dr. Todd Stone
Parenting is hard work! All we want as parents is respect and cooperation, but a recent informal survey of my practice members, disrespect and defiance is the more common experience. What should we do as parents to nurture the respect and cooperation we desire? I humbly offer the lessons I have learned so far.
1. Step back and define our vision
Clarifying your purpose as a parent helps you rise above the emotional charge and conflicts. Instead of reacting, you more thoughtfully respond with actions that keep you focused on the “end product” of your parenting efforts.
What are the attributes you wish to instill in your child? Most parents, when asked that question (outside of a conflict), agree that they want the same things for their children as they want for themselves.
So, what do we want for ourselves? I teach a model of health and life based on an ancient philosophy called the Five Elements. This model suggests that we all want to feel connected and included in our community (family), to contribute (be helpful) and feel significant in this community, which allows us to trust our internal “compass” for direction and personal growth.
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Recently, my 2-year-old son, West, reached into the silverware drawer, grabbing whatever he could. He then proceeded to walk into the dining room with a trail of forks and spoons behind him. Hearing the clatter, my first reaction was to stop the mess—yes, I was making him feel dumb—but I caught myself and remembered my higher parenting purpose. I stopped in my tracks and recognized West for wanting to help. I gave him the forks back, thanking him for his helpfulness.
2. Transform frustration into purpose
If I continued on with my frustrated reaction, my son would’ve felt disconnected, excluded, and insignificant. More importantly, he would lose trust in his internal compass. His heart’s desire to help would’ve been connected to pain.
Would I have scarred him for life if I’d continued on with my poor reaction? No, because when things calmed down enough for reflection, with a clear purpose as a parent, I would’ve gone back to him to apologize. I might have cuddled him later that night and said, “West, remember when Dada yelled at you when you took the forks out? I’m very sorry. I love you very much, and you are important to our family. If you want to help, I will let you from now on. I was reacting to the clatter sound. But you were not messing up. Son, your help is appreciated.”
Whether or not he would understand every word is unimportant; he would understand my intention. I’ve had some of the most heart-connecting moments with my children through apologies. It almost makes the screwing up worthwhile.
I’ve seen many parents, stumbling over details in a conflict, state “I deserve some respect,” or, “He/She needs to respect me!” My typical response is, “Your little monster came into this world believing you are a God. If you wreck that, then you need to earn some respect.”
When we focus on details in a conflict, our intention is often to get our way or be right. Come on, you know that it’s true. If you are like me, you’ve had a time or two when you realized you were wrong, but kept arguing anyway.
Let’s just admit that being right or getting our way is NOT our higher purpose as parents. In fact, if our higher purpose is connection, contribution, significance and personal growth, being right is oppositional to our ultimate goal.
The most challenging and the most accurate way to stay connected to our higher purpose as a parent is to remember this little person once worshiped us. His or her only intention in life is to feel loved and important to us.
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3. Assume positive intention
If your baby cries, assume positive intention. She just wants to feel safe and connected. If your toddler screams and yells at you, he probably wants to feel important to you.
If your preschooler throws a kicking and screaming tantrum for 30 minutes, she likely wants you to choose her side.
If your grade-schooler steals from the grocery store, assume positive intention. He wants more attention and love.
If your teen gets drunk and tells you to F-off, she may want to feel like she is part of something, and your family is what she ultimately is shouting for.
Assuming positive intention transcends ALL the crappy details. Hang on to that purpose, that intention, as tightly and frequently as you can, because parenting is hard work … but it’s worth the effort.
Dr. Todd Stone is a YourTango Expert who has a particular interest in the root cause of health and happiness deficiencies.
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