Using Your Emotions as Tools
KA BAM! The door to my son’s room slammed behind him as he bolted in to burrow under the sheets and blankets of his bed. I’d heard it was called “caving” - what some boys do when they are overwhelmed by emotion. I was left outside the closed door, exasperated. He’d lost his lunch box three times that week and I’d just discovered that he had, yet again, left his homework at school. Lately I’d been tearing my hair out over his behavior. He had me choosing his clothes in the morning, picking up after him, running his forgotten books to school and nagging him about chores and other tasks that he’d been doing on his own for a couple of years. He was interrupting me when I was in a conversation with someone else, but wouldn’t talk to me when I wanted to talk with him. Whenever he was criticized, which, I admit, was getting to be very regularly, he would run to his room and slam the door. I’d asked him what he thought was going on and what he was feeling, but he didn’t seem to have a clue. I knew how I was feeling though: exasperated, irritated, annoyed, worried... and guilty that I wasn’t handling it well.
Parenting is a tough job!
Parenting is a tough job. We didn’t have to get a license to become a parent and no children that I know of came with operating instructions. We tend to muddle through, using parenting strategies that come naturally to us which, of course, are the strategies that our parents used on us. When things are going well, we feel blessed to have such wonderful kids and we believe that we are doing a pretty fine job of parenting. But, when things get difficult and the strategies our parents used aren’t working, parenting can become a very emotional job. Our feelings can get the best of us: frustration, anger, worry, embarrassment, helplessness hopelessness, fear. We can feel challenged, threatened disappointed, disgusted, despairing and hurt. My kids haven’t even hit the teen years and I think at some point or another I’ve felt every one of these emotions in the twelve years I’ve had children. Mostly, I am confused about why my child is “misbehaving” and am desperate to try to find a solution.
Children do best when they are encouraged
Though I was brought up in a home where misbehavior was punished, through my learning and work as a teacher I was able to see that we don’t have to make children feel worse in order for them to do better. Think about it: if you’ve messed up at work do you feel inclined to do better if you’ve been shamed and punished? Or, are you more inclined to do better if someone supports you through figuring out what went wrong and why, and then being available to consult with you through the process of fixing the mistake? I know that in this way, children are no different. Children do best when they are encouraged... not punished, not pampered. As a parent, I was solution focused but didn’t know where to turn to figure out WHY my child was doing what he was doing, nor what I should try in order to help my son solve the problem and get the behavior to stop!
Rudolf Dreikurs called these mistaken beliefs, the mistaken goals of:
Every child is different
Every child is different. My daughter is my first born. When she was going through a difficult phase we would sit down and talk about it. She would explain how she was feeling and would be able to work on the “why” question as well. Together we would problem solve and plan. I was feeling pretty smug. This was a piece of cake! Then my son hit school age. Talking to my friends , I was able to understand that my son was not alone in having no idea what he was feeling, why he was feeling it and what to do about it. He was lost in the midst of the whirlpool of his behavior and emotion. The relief is, in order to successfully use the Mistaken Goal Chart you don’t have to know what your child is feeling, you only need to know how YOU’RE feeling! You are able to use those less-than-desirable emotions to get you on the right track. Using the Mistaken Goal Chart enables you to find out what mistaken belief is behind your child’s misbehavior. Try to see the message underlying this belief emblazoned across your child somehow, on a T-shirt or on the front of a hat. Keep this image alive as you begin to work with your children, because understanding their discouraged, mistaken thinking will help you to have more empathy and patience as you support them moving through this phase.
Left in the hall outside the closed door to my son’s room, I sighed with frustration and wandered back into the living room to sit down. AARRRGGH! I was awash in my own chaos of emotions until I remembered that instead of feeling overwhelmed and humiliated by this maternal storm of feeling, I could use it productively. Out came the Mistaken Goal Chart and rather quickly the storm cleared allowing a great deal more clarity. Using the chart, I saw that what I was feeling and how I was reacting pointed toward my son having the mistaken goal of “Undue Attention”. It let me know that my son had the mistaken belief that unless he was getting me to do things for him or was the center of my attention, he didn’t belong and was not important. His coded message (hidden from both of us until I used the Mistaken Goal Chart) was, “Notice me! Involve me usefully!”
Focusing on solutions!
by Glenda Montgomery
Teacher, Parent, Certified Positive Discipline Instructor