A parent recently reported that he recognizes that he needs “some help.” He stated, “I know what I am supposed to do,” but then he cringed and said, “but I find myself yelling at the kids a lot. More than I should. I don’t get it.” This father reported that he actually pushed his son onto the floor having become angry about the son’s behavior to a sibling. “I did the same thing to him that he did to his brother, and it was okay for me to do it. That’s crazy!” This parent’s problem is that in the calmer moments, he is able to reflect on what he did. But in the heat of the moment, he responds much as someone else likely did a long, long time ago—his parents.
When we are children in a family, we are constantly exposed to everything that goes on in the family. This happens 24 hours a day, day in and day out. As we experience these events, we record them like a DVD in our brain. After a while, there is so much stored memory that we have to think very little about what to do. We have seen it so many times, we can replicate the behavior with our eyes closed. And, we often do. The original problem occurs when older people in our families of origin engage in problematic behaviors such as yelling, fighting, and just being disrespectful to each other. All this time, the children are watching and listening. After the child has watched and listened enough, he tries out the same behavior. When he does, someone may yell at him, chastise him, scold him, and he learns even more. By the time that boy becomes a man and a father, he has practiced being disrespectful so many times, he is quick to display the behavior with his children and others. And, so it goes.
What is a parent to do? For starters, we have to recognize that we often cannot rely on what we learned from our parents to automatically be the best response for our own family. We can learn to WAIT and then DECIDE on WHAT to do. Nothing will change should we take our time to decide how best to handle a situation with our child. What is the hurry anyway? Moreover, if we take our time to make a decision rather than quickly respond much like the father above did (which implies that he was not thinking, but REACTING), then we will be teaching our children how to best handle problematic situations with consideration and deliberation. Plus, we will make better decisions about what to do in family situations rather than hurting our children and later feeling unhappy regarding our impulsive and aggressive behavior.
We have to think ahead about how we might want to respond to the children’s behavior. This is called “rehearsal.” By thinking ahead of time how we can respond, we are preparing ourselves for the upcoming event. Once it arises, we may be able to catch ourselves and recognize, “Hey, this is one of those times. Let’s think about this.” Finally, you can then CHOOSE to exact a measure of discipline on these children whom you love. Remember, your task is to help them learn to correct their mistakes, not hurt them and make them feel ashamed. Later, ask your child how he could have behaved differently when his brother took his bike or his sister threw something at him. By encouraging our children to REHEARSE, they can become prepared for crises as well. Teaching your children to be thoughtful through your own thoughtful behavior is an excellent parental task to take on. Then, you can really be yourself as a parent.